By Ralph Trenary
It’s a cliché that bumper stickers are a reflection of our society. Well, I was following one that was particularly deplorable the other day. Maybe you’ve also seen this piece of plastic in the back window of our neighbor’s pick-up topper, “The Only Good Politician is a Dead Politician.”
Something unsettling has been taking hold in how Americans make decisions in our communities and nation. Even though the alternatives are troubling and un-democratic, the demonization and demeaning of American politics has simply gone too far.
Perhaps it’s the many centuries that have passed since the creation of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. But, most certainly the language and practices permeating our political dialogue have become cynical and deceptive.
Still, that’s an improvement over past centuries where political contests, even in this country, were too often marked by bloody violence. The fearful murmurs I heard in the 2008 campaign season were sometimes only drowned-out by those encouraging hate and violence against opposition candidates. Our nation was fortunate that all of this was confined to talk and very little proven action.
I find myself shifting back and forth from believing the most curious part of the contemporary political commentary is merely amusing to truly destructive. That would be the mind readers and prognosticators of future events. Typically, this takes the form of writings with phrases like “…but, I know what they are really thinking / planning / plotting.” Part of this tactic is an effort to manipulate conspiracy fears and the rest is the cynicism of innuendo, half-truths, exaggeration and deliberate misinformation.
Once upon a time in America, we believed we could place some measure of trust in the reported statements and actions of the elected leaders already in government and of candidates. This is where the First Amendment rises to the stature of one of the great clauses of the Constitution. It is a tragedy that national news outlets are routinely being accused of corrupting the ideals of the First Amendment by functioning as propaganda arms of one or the other of the two dominant political parties.
The bumper sticker on our neighbor’s pick-up truck claiming that all politicians deserve homicide is going too far. Last year, a daily newspaper up the road was careless by publishing a telephone whine encouraging the assassination of one of the presidential candidates. The resulting apology and return to responsible editorial practices was correct, but too late.
My vast family tree holds a marker for an assassinated president. William McKinley was “Cousin Will” to my ancestors. He was known to tease his female cousins during family gatherings by stealing and hiding their dolls. The fact that he was shot twice and died in 1901 has been a life-long reminder to me that even mere threats of assassination deserve to be treated, and prosecuted, as crimes.
Let’s face the hard truth. Politics is how decisions are, and must be, made in America. That’s why this nation rebelled against monarchism and fought wars against fascism and communism. The current pattern of contempt and deception does little to protect American democracy and goes too far towards establishing a government that serves other purposes than fulfilling “…Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”