I woke up with two things to say to you on this Election Day: (1) Vote! (2) What in holy heck are we doing to ourselves?
It’s not the results of this midterm that worry me so much, although I’m not thrilled with the polls and may hate the outcome of the election. What’s really of concern for me and for the Goodness Project is the screaming meemie fear level of this campaign season.
The fear, the anger, the in-the-gut distrust have been hard to miss, especially on TV. AP reports on the onslaught of campaign commercials:
Ads in U.S. House and Senate races have risen 50 percent; in gubernatorial races, they’ve more than doubled, according to figures from the Wesleyan Media Project, which analyzes ads.
From early morning news to late night talk shows, political ads have been so prominent this election cycle that they’ve turned into economic development for broadcasters. AP says that in the month of October campaign commercials are expected to account for 30 percent of the revenue at local TV stations. Campaigns and all the varied secret-donor organizations are pouring more money into television right now then any other sector of the economy.
I don’t know about you, but the overwhelming majority of the ads I’ve seen are horror stories. It’s as if zombies and demons have slipped on business suits and decided to run for office. The commercials beat the same drum: These people are wrong wrong wrong; they’re nasty, vile, evil. Don’t trust them!
All of this leads me to wonder about what impact this manner of campaigning is having on our society. Every campaign cycle, the message is louder and nastier and clearer: Do. Not. Trust. These. People.
If so many people are untrustworthy, how do we make society work? Trust is the oil that makes it possible for a group of people to move forward. In “America’s Trust Fall” in the book The Compassionate Instinct, writer Jeremy Adam Smith and Ohio State University Associate Professor of Sociology Pamela Paxton call trust the “magic ingredient that makes social life possible.” They write:
People trust other people when they hire a babysitter, drive their cars or leave their house unarmed. And we must also trust large organizations, like schools and businesses, for modern society to function. People trust institutions when they dial 911, take prescription medicines, and deposit money in the bank. Without trust, we would be paralyzed, and social life would grind to a halt.
Yet every two years, we point fingers at each other and scream about how untrustworthy we all are. This has got to be hurting are culture as a whole. At the very least, it’s making the business of governing, which depends on compromise, darn near impossible. So, on this our biennial We-Hate-Each-Other Holiday, I ask that we all stop and take a breath.