Can you hear that noise in the background? A consistent drone, more often shrill than muffled; a public spectacle that cannot be avoided. It’s the campaign, what we call the democratic process at work. Sure, democracy can be messy, but does it have to be chaotic. Absent an enormous ego, what sane individuals would put themselves and their families through the campaign wringer?
Any person who wants to be president should be immediately disqualified. Only those pulled kicking and screaming into the arena should be considered. Today, the election process seems like an interminable public execution as candidates try to destroy each other. Is the presidency an award we bestow on the surviving gladiator, emerging from the pit?
Politics has become a blood sport with a thousand commentators urging the combatants on. It’s the Indianapolis 500, World Series, and Super Bowl rolled into one gigantic show where entertainment reigns supreme. How long before we get to feats of strength and the swimsuit competition? Perhaps after the insult, name-calling, and mud-slinging rounds. Substance is buried in trash talk to the point where it is almost irrelevant.
At least in theory, truth emerges and justice is achieved in a courtroom as two advocates under strict rules seek to persuade a jury or a judge of the merits of their respective positions. The process is at least coherent and relevant (albeit not always accurate) as it proceeds to a conclusion. One can at least see a structure and a design at play. Not so, particularly in the presidential election gauntlet that has evolved.
Instead of identifying abundant campaign falsehoods with “Pinocchios,” the press should use candles to identify occasional truthful statements. Campaigns are endless. Soon we can expect that right after the president is sworn in, candidates to succeed him/her will begin their campaigns. We’re already at the point where entire networks seem to be devoted to campaign coverage. What is now hyped as “Breaking News” will be called “Breaking Newtainment” as we further confuse the line between important and fanciful.
I suggest there be referees in striped shirts on stage during the debates to call fouls. Offending candidates would be escorted to a penalty box for a period, the length of which would depend upon the seriousness of the violation. For example “Little Marco” would be a five-minute penalty for disparaging the size of an opponent. “Low Energy Jeb” would cost you three minutes. Insulting a debate interrogator would be a one-debate suspension. There also should be pre-debate drug tests to make sure the candidates are not using steroids or some other stimulant.
The spectacle may run its course. Viewers will become jaded and look for something more entertaining. A show that combines zombies, car crashes, space aliens and super heroes might catch on. The drafters of the Constitution were aware of the external threats to democracy, but never anticipated it would collapse from within, and that the balance of power would become a stalemate and the elective process a carnival.
They knew human failings would be exaggerated within institutions and provided safeguards. What they failed to anticipate is the extent to which those weaknesses would be further amplified by constant publicity. No person or institution can long withstand relentless exploitive attention. Will future generations one day visit the Democracy Museum and view the following memorial?
Here lies Democracy (1788-2050)
Dead of Exposure.
A Noble Experiment;
It Served The Nation Well
For 262 Years
– Until the Public Lost Interest.
James W. Dolan is a retired Dorchester District Court judge who now practices law.