A sucker is born every minute. Supposedly P. T. Barnum, the ultimate circus showman, said this, though no one can prove it. All I know is this: I just don’t want to be one.
And yet, in this political circus in which we find ourselves, millions of people are being played as suckers. But it does not have to be.
The latest falsehood to which we are all being subjected, is that the presidential debates coming up will determine the outcome of the election. Maybe that will happen. But, if so, shame on us.
Here is the question we should be asking: what are the rational criteria by which informed American citizens should decide how they will vote? The responsible answer must be that we look at the candidates in toto. We have mountains of information about the lives and the work of the candidates. Thousands and thousands of statements. Records of relationships. Evidence of character and lack of character. The decision any one citizen makes does not suffer from lack of information, but is often corrupted by a skewing of information or the temptation to take the lazy way.
The journalists in broadcast and print media are today by and large focussed on one thing: the big debate. Who will “win”? What gaffes will be made? What zingers will be delivered? How will the public react, and so throw their vote this way or that and influence the direction of the U.S. and the world?
I have a suggestion. That we, the American people, decide ahead of time that the 90-minute spectacle on Monday night will be just one data point in this important process. Nothing more; nothing less. I really don’t care if Mrs. Clinton has a coughing fit or Mr. Trump lapses into some random insult. The television show on Monday night (and make no mistake about it, this is about television ratings) is one small pocket of information that needs to be added into the massive databank of information about these candidates.
There were moments over the years when I felt like one of my sermons as a pastor was going to be the make-or-break moment. The Sunday after 9/11 comes to mind. But this is a silly idea. Life is a long journey, and all of us need to judge ourselves, and be judged, by the whole story.
We need so much wisdom to navigate in a media saturated culture. When Ted Turner gave us 24/7 cable television coverage we got a gift and a curse. Our technology is a monster commanding our attention, and demanding to be fed. All the little tidbits of information we obsess about. The lack of perspective. The trees that lure us away from beholding the forest.
It does not need to be.
[I’ll be in Haiti on Monday, without TV. Let me know how it goes.]