I am watching the run up to the 2020 US Presidential election with heightened interest, as I am sure many of you are as well (regardless of which nation you call your home). And the Democrats and the press have just realized one of my darkest fears. They are having a televised “draft” to see who will be facing off in the second round of debates. I expect to see partisans sitting in the crowd (of the CNN studio), cheering on their favorites and perhaps booing their rivals. It is a disgrace.
In an earlier piece I lamented the lack of seriousness voters today are bringing to the election process. I confessed to being guilty myself, declaring “election season my second favorite sport, behind boxing.” When I first started saying this, years ago, I suppose it was meant as a joke, or at least a satirical remark about how team-oriented different political sides were becoming. And yet, like so many other terrible suggestions I make about the future half in jest, yet another grim fabric of our emptying soul has become reality.
So what is this supposed to be? One critic says, “I think the degree to which show business overtakes content in the debate process is a regrettable thing.” Another, in an attempt to justify the choice, claims “The idea of the passive audience has been obliterated and gone for a while. But the ways that people feel emboldened to take potshots at the news media in ways that maybe they would not have four years ago? Now it’s just standard operating procedure.” CNN, of course, like a politician dodging a question, did not respond to inquiries for a comment.
Both of these critics are of course correct. Yes, show business invading politics is a terrible thing, something that waters down not just the social atmosphere and concern for the nation’s well-being, but it undermines the notion of Democracy itself. Donald Trump, if we choose to blame him for anything (alongside his equal partners, the media), is more responsible for this transformation than any other leader in the history of the world. Sure, people on TV are now bandying around words like “Demagogue,” or making the declaration that Trump has finally been proven a “racist,” (wasn’t this decided years and years before he ran for office?) and the numerous defenders of the president try to evade the issue and bring up another valid point about the rise of extremism on the left (one could easily argue the same case on the right, but, taking a page from Tea Party Republicans, the Democrats choose to focus on the more visceral, emotional issues, wrongly believing that these ideas still somehow matter to the public at large). But all of it is a show. The President intentionally says something controversial and then dominates news coverage, removing all considerations of anything other than “Do you support the President or not?” Which justification can you make or which negative can you prove? It is all a game of chance for this one time casino owner. (I will quote yet again from The Art of the Deal to hear Donald Trump’s take on this: “One thing I’ve learned about the press is that they’re always hungry for a good story, and the more sensational the better. It’s in the nature of the job, and I understand that. The point is that if you are a little different, or a little outrageous, or if you do things that are bold or controversial, the press is going to write about you.” and “The final key to the way I promote is bravado. I play to people’s fantasies. People may not always think big themselves, but they can still get very excited by those who do. That’s why a little hyperbole never hurts. People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular. I call it truthful hyperbole. It’s an innocent form of exaggeration, and a very effective form of promotion.”)
What about the other point, the claim the critic made that people watch the news exactly like a partisan sporting event. They root for one side or the other. They are not passive (the passive no longer watch the news, perhaps settling, in the summer, for a baseball game.) People scream at the television or even have friends over to drink and watch the debates. It’s a view party. You can hear the screams and laughter, and watch the desolate head shakes when a favorite drops the ball, or a rival hits a home run. I imagine this even goes on in bars today, both sides rooting and booing, the social atmosphere every bit as contentious as drunken football fans fighting over the Greatest of All Time.
CNN is having a political draft show, or maybe really a live game of bingo, the ping pong balls with names and numbers popping up and placing individuals on stage purely by chance. This sort of dumb luck is now par for the course in our politics.
I am far from the only one making this point. Plenty of cynics and unhappy pollsters are talking and writing about the same thing, and I my point is far from unique. Perhaps what I say is even darker than those on TV, forced to defend the idea of the draft itself, even if they are against it, by entertaining us with their criticism. But you know many of them want to say (and probably do say off set) “This is fucking stupid.” Why? Because this whole idea is fucking stupid.
More after the draft, and subsequent coverage of the debates themselves. I hope many of you are in mourning not so much for the United States of America that we once used to be, as the collapse of the very idea that made this nation, back in an increasingly distant past, so great.