As we quickly approach the midterm elections, the pace of political vitriol and hate has accelerated. Television is almost unwatchable as the political ads are back to back, each one nastier than the one before. Television news networks have steadily added more and more reporters so as not to miss any comment, photo op, or social media post that even hints at a scandal, accusation of wrong doing or change or support by anyone even remotely connected to the government that might affect the outcome of the November elections.
I can only assume I am not the only citizen thoroughly sick and tired of it all. Actually, most of us became disgusted with it all after the 2016 election. What is going on now is just a continuance of what happened then as a non-traditional candidate had the guts (and his own money) to challenge the status quo. And win! For the first time in a long time, he people spoke loud enough to change the status quo. And then we naively thought that once the election was decided, we might get a break and have some quiet rest until the next presidential contest came around in 2020.
But this unexpected upset was immediately followed by an explosive outcry of foul play from shocked losers and non-believers in the true democratic process, and so the hatred simply intensified. And now, two years in, many of us think this is the worst it has ever been. But we are wrong.
Serious readers of America’s history know that the politics of our government has always been contentious. In the beginning, we didn’t have the nastiness in our faces 24/7 like we do today. In fact, our founding fathers struggled for months to construct the Constitution in such a way that it would provide the guidelines for our elected officers to administer the affairs of the country and do so in a way that we the people, once elections were over, would not have to think about or deal with our government on a daily basis.
But here we are. As I continue to tune out more and more of the electronic and print news in disgust and frustration, I am reminded of the political career of Abraham Lincoln, another truly non-traditional candidate for the top job in government and who won. For him, like our current president, the pre-election hatred and nastiness did not stop.
In the beginning, candidates for public office were men who were well educated, usually lawyers, and relatively wealthy. They would pay printers to publish broadsides and pamphlets extolling their virtues and expertise about themselves and distribute those to the people to promote their qualifications for office and ask for their votes. There was no television, no talk radio, no tweets on twitter, and the newspapers of the day were usually very biased in favor of their particular political parties. Nor were there periodic reports on how much money each candidate raised the previous week. Candidates would write to friendly editors and beg them to be supportive, both in their editorials and with their pocketbooks. Whatever candidates did before elections, regardless of good or bad, it would take days or even weeks for news accounts to reach the public and in many cases, much of it never did.
Lincoln’s election campaigns were no exception. Even though he was far from wealthy, he had been pursuing his political career for years by the time the presidential election of 1860 came round. He was a successful lawyer and a significant leader of the Whig party, having served both in the Illinois State Legislature and in the US House of Representatives. But his discouragement with is party’s lack of effectiveness in moving the new country forward with proposed legislation led him to leave the Whigs and join the fledgling Republican party. He was chosen at their first convention in spite of his many detractor’s best efforts to block his nomination. And there were many detractors. Established politicians believed he was just a simple minded country self-taught lawyer, homely beyond belief, and certainly not experienced enough to run the country. Nor did they hesitate to say so, both in speeches and in newspapers around the country.
By the time Lincoln had surprisingly been elected President, the hate-spewing publicity machine was in full force. Cartoons appeared in newspaper depicting him as an ugly, gorilla-like buffoon; campaign speeches were full of insults, hatred, and mockery. Death threats were common, and it was well known that there were organized groups who made no secret of their desires to assassinate him. One death threat was so menacing that Lincoln’s security people convinced him he had to sneak into Washington on the night before his inauguration to get there safely. He did but he was ashamed of doing that ever after. The hatred did not top during the four long years of the Civil War, but in spite of that, Lincoln was reelected for a second term.
Does any of that sound like what’s happening today? I actually stood next to a senior citizen in a store one day who was railing about how bad things are now and how our president needs to die! Iowa’s major daily newspaper frequently prints cartoons showing our president as ugly and saying seriously negative things about him. Each issue is filled with articles declaring the terrible shape our country is in because of that disastrous election that surely was a tragic mistake and claiming he is not fit to be president. So let’s impeach him. Today’s political hatred is in our faces 24/7 due to the insidious electronic communication system we have become intensely addicted to.
The truth now, as it actually was in Lincoln’s day, is that these men came into office and went about doing their extremely difficult jobs to the best of their abilities and our task is to stop listening to the ranting and political self-interests and remember how to think for ourselves. I know we all learned how to do that back when we were young and beginning to figure out how the world is supposed to work. Listen to actual campaign speeches by those who talk about what they want to do to make things better, not just what actions current officers have done that they disagree with. Read biographies of past and present office holders. You will find that politically speaking, things have been worse. Attend your town meetings to actually meet candidates and talk with them. Ignore the noise and think for yourselves! And be sure to vote! If you don’t vote, you have no right to complain.
Read the Federalist papers, written in 1787 and 1788 by James Madison and John Jay.