Teenager’s Guide to Presidential Elections, Part 1: Meanness
Before I Begin
I know you’re too young to vote. But when have you ever turned away from a story with lies, betrayal, and sex? No, I’m not hawking the latest teen novel. I’m talking about the drama of American politics. Enjoy!
“If you can’t say somethin’ nice, don’t say nothin’ at all.” That was the sage advice passed down to Thumper in the Disney animated classic Bambi.As teenagers, you’ve probably heard that age-old line a million times already. The presidential candidates have heard it, too, only it didn’t quite sink in with them. From now till the election, they’ll be bombarding us with nonstop negative campaigning, deploying their favorite weapon: Meanness!
Attack ads, mudslinging, and character assassination are just some of the delightful methods each candidate will use to disgrace his opponent. The recent televised debates gave us a taste of their ruthlessness while spiking our outrage. We fumed at their shameful conduct; steamed over their childish bickering. The live audiences jeered and booed, like they were ringside at a wrestling match. And as we watched this display of incivility with disgust… we ate it up!
TV has profited nicely from our thirst for viewing people being mistreated. We crave seeing humiliation rewarded on reality shows. Watching courtroom judges twist justice into ridicule is what we live for. And if you think you’re watching for any other reason, catch that popular cooking show sometime, count the foul language “bleeps,” then tell me what that has to do with the culinary arts!
Calm down, you say. Get over it! It’s all harmless fun. Well, maybe it is. But like it or not, this cultural phenomenon affects our decision-making, and that’s where the playfulness ends.
Our obsession with bad behavior has now made meannesssocially acceptable. Road rage is just another form of self-expression. Inflicting bodily injury on perfect strangers is merely interactive communication. Imagine how dull your youth culture would be without cyberbullying.
But to the extent that meanness influences our judgment, sending the wrong candidate to the White House may not only be harmful, it can be deadly! Reality shows may innocently boost TV’s bottom line, but misguided presidential power can spread fear, promote hostility, and even lead to war, if one feels so inclined to go there.
Former president George H. W. Bush once imagined the United States as a “kinder, gentler nation.” It was a bold vision, even though his seed of optimism never flowered.
But there may yet be a chance to uproot that mean streak from presidential campaign politics. As Congress struggles with their Campaign Finance Reform Bill, I propose that they consider attaching The Thumper Amendment— a brief addendum that begins, “If you can’t say somethin’ nice…”
Next time — Part 2: Partying
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