Last Monday, 84 million Americans huddled around their television sets to watch the first presidential debate between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump. I have no doubt millions more tuned in north of the border here in Canada.
What they hoped to get were answers to some of America’s most fundamental and pressing problems. An answer for how either candidate would continue to grow the economy. An answer for how they would keep the country safe from the cancerous forces of ISIS. An answer for how the country would deal with the greatest racial divide since the 1960s.
Instead, what they got were two incompetent narcissists exchanging personal blows that had little to do with how they were going to improve their country and more with trying to push each further into the pits of political mediocrity. By night’s end, the 90 minutes of television was more reminiscent of an argument between third graders than a political debate to evaluate who would become the next leader of the world’s greatest superpower.
Such is the practice of politics, though.
It’s a practice and thought that causes many people, Canadians and Americans alike, to become disengaged with the political process. It’s commonly referred to as partisan politics, but is manifest through toeing the party line, saying whatever your leader instructs you to say, and belittling the opposition as if they are and were never worthy of debating the issue in the first place. How constructive.
In America, we see it in the presidential race. It’s more than evident every time Trump disrespects Ms. Clinton calling her “Crooked Hillary,” or hinting at the possibility that second amendment supporters should take their outrage out on her. For Hillary, the jabs are sometimes more subtle, as they were Monday evening, but evident nonetheless.
“Donald, I know you live in your own reality, but that is just not the fact,” she replied to one of Trump’s attacks, while adopting the moniker “Trumped-up trickle-down” for Trump’s fiscal policy of the future.
Neither of these are as life-threatening as what Trump sometimes blurts out, but both are examples of ad hominem — attacking the person making the argument rather than the argument itself.
As a Canadian, if you think our political system is somehow immune to this childishness, you’d be sadly mistaken. Turn on your television during the House of Commons question period and you might see our Prime Minister bully a member of parliament into participating in a vote. It’s nothing new, though. How can that moment in 1997 be forgotten when Reform MP Darrell Stinson told a Liberal MP, “I hear the word ‘racist’ from that side. Do you have the fortitude or the gonads to stand up and come across and say that to me you son of a b****, come on!”
How is that politics? How is that conducive to debating and creating the best ideas for this country to move forward with through an open forum? How is any of that so-called partisan politics constructive in this process?
The answer is that it’s not. The cheering, applauding and self-congratulatory remarks that are made in the political world for putting forward ideas have taken over the ideas themselves, robbing our democratic countries of the progress we so desperately crave.
What would the founders of our two democratic countries have to say about this? Was this the democracy they fought so hard to create?
Sure, there will be disagreements amongst colleagues at times. In nearly every job, that’s certainly the case. But as leaders of our respective countries, they should have the fortitude and ability to take a step back and talk about the ideas that matter.
That’s how we’re going to achieve prosperity. That’s how the two sibling countries will demonstrate excellence.
Sadly, though, that’s not the way it is.
If you’re as sick of watching the Trump and Hillary saga as I am, shoot me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.