Our biggest problem after the election won’t be breaking in the new prez, but finding something to occupy all the newscasters, columnists and wannabe pundits as they go about selling cars, insurance and ED remedies. Donald Trump has been the biggest boon to the media since the Andrew Jackson-John Quincy Adams campaign of 1828. If anyone thinks the Hillary-Donald thing has been dirty, they ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
In 1828 John Quincy Adams’ supporters called Andrew Jackson’s wife Rachel an outright w _ _ _ _ e. And Jackson’s people accused Adams of having pimped women for the Tsar of Russia when he accompanied his father there on a diplomatic mission. And those juicy tidbits are only samples.
The American people, particularly those with soap opera mentalities, relish hearing about the hanky-panky, but relatively few let it influence their votes. In spite of his extracurricular shenanigans and lying about it to boot, Bill Clinton left office with a 65 percent approval rating. George W., a comparative paragon of fidelity, fell below 25% in his last year. Why? Because people are more interested in pocketbook issues than politicians’ morals. Slick Willy apparently found time between affairs to preside over four balanced budgets and push through important welfare reforms. He also left his successor with a $284 billion budget surplus which he promptly squandered on tax cuts for the wealthy.
What am I trying to say here? That the American voter can usually be trusted to elect candidates who are best qualified to lead the country, but not necessarily to set the nation’s moral tone. But wouldn’t it be great if he or she could do both? In my lifetime Presidents Hoover, Truman, Eisenhower, Carter, Reagan, George H. W. Bush and, of course, the present White House occupant, were individuals of exemplary moral character. But there has been little positive correlation between our presidents’ moral character and their political effectiveness.
Overlooking a candidate’s moral indiscretions isn’t a new thing. We elected a president who reportedly had an ongoing affair with a slave woman (Jefferson), one accused of a bigamous marriage (Jackson) and one who admitted fathering a child out of wedlock (Cleveland). All three were Democrats, I might add. And two are rated better than average presidents.
Then anything goes with the American electorate? Not necessarily. In fact a growing cynicism among American voters has resulted in ever-decreasing voter turnouts, and that’s disturbing. Among modern democracies we rank 31st of 34 in voter participation. Worse still, only 65 percent of eligible Americans are even registered to vote. As I’ve said before, that’s not just disgraceful, it’s plumb scary.
History reveals that extreme political polarization such as we have today tends to discourage interest in politics altogether and decreases voter participation. Today there is little ideological overlap or balance in our two-party system. "Democrat" and "Republican" have simply become synonyms for "liberal" and "conservative." But compromise, no matter how ego-deflating or ideologically distasteful, is more advantageous to both parties and the country in general than today’s bull-headed refusal to negotiate. And guess which party refuses?
George B. Reed Jr., who lives in Rossville, can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.