Suckers and Presidential Debates

a non-partisan comment on our political process

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.]

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3 thoughts on “Suckers and Presidential Debates

  1. I noticed that you said that we Americans were to choose. I have no problem with this, I do however hear that there are groups of people being hurried up into becoming citizens so they can vote and I detest that. It occurs to me that the people that are doing this are more concerned about getting elected than carrying out the American idea. I do not think that it is an unchristian idea for a group of people to assemble and form of a government that is ruled by a constitution. I also do not think that it is unchristian to want to want to keep those that do not believe in being governed by this constitution out of this said nation (any nation). From my point of view it is certainly not unchristian to want to keep those that espouse religions that do not believe in inalienable rights for all humans out of our country( this does not include those that are already here). So when it comes to the debates I will be listening how the candidates answer their questions in general but in particular I will be listening to what they think about bringing people into our nation that will not want to keep the same system that we now have.