Caught in the Crossfire

Trent Ernst, Editor

It’s like watching a train wreck. In excruciatingly slow motion.

I mean, it just keeps going on and on and on.

I am, of course, talking about the American presidential elections and, after nearly a year and a half of dominating the news cycle, there is only a month to go before one of two candidates are elected, and …

And what?

Because every time we get to an election, we see the rifts in the American populous getting deeper and deeper, along political lines.

A large part of that has to do with the way politics are communicated, both in the press and especially in social media.

Admittedly, I am a Canadian, so I am not experiencing the full experience of the American elections, but 99 percent of the political posts I see do not tout a certain candidate’s strengths, but prey on the other’s weakness.

This is something that has been growing with the last few election cycles, and it is spinning more and more out of control. Part of the issue is attack memes. I don’t know about everybody else, but I get onto Facebook with a mix of fear and interest.

Fear, because there are so many trash-talking, character bashing, stereotyping stories, photos and videos.

Interest, because, I hate to admit it, but some of them are actually kinda funny. (Like the Trumpkin. Snigger.)

But by focusing on the other candidate’s weaknesses instead of your candidate’s strengths, all that is happening is the perception of two lame-duck candidates.

I was recently watching an interview with Penn Jillette, the magician, comedian and professional upsetter of the status quo, and he said something rather profound. He said he wants to see someone in the White House who is a better person than he is. Who is someone that, he may disagree with, but who is someone whose character is, if not impeccable, should be someone who aspires to a bigger vision than he does. Neither candidate, he says, does that.

And maybe that’s the trouble with this current crop of candidates. Rather than being the person with the best policies (coughsanderscoughcough), they were the ones who were best at slinging the muck. Whose campaigns produced the best insult images or animated gifs.

And that’s not the sort who you want sitting in the big chair in the most powerful country in the world.

The thing is, this election? Is being run on social media. Oh, sure there’s traditional media and the usual stomping around from place to place to make speeches, but who pays attention to that, unless one of the candidates says something completely outrageous, or better yet, mockable. But social media is where it’s being run, and these images and stories? They are the ones that are getting the most engagement. They’re feeding the beast, and the beast is us.

One of the most profound observations on the election came from, of all places, Cracked is the website for the humour magazine (does the physical magazine still exist anymore?). In the article, How Half of America Lost it’s F**ing Mind, David Wong argues that Donald Trump is a “brick thrown through the window of the elites” who live in the cities by rural America. “The foundation upon which America was undeniably built—family, faith, and hard work—had been deemed unfashionable and small-minded,” he says. “Those snooty elites up in their ivory tower laughed as they kicked away that foundation, and then wrote 10,000-word think-pieces blaming the builders for the ensuing collapse.”

Indeed, America is a country at war with itself. We can only hope that the rest of us aren’t caught in the cross-fire.