Tuesday, November 8, 2016

As election ends, where did we go wrong?

This much-lamented election year is coming to a finale, and few besides the consultants making fortunes off this quadrennial exercise will mourn its passing. What we should be doing as the votes are being counted and thereafter is address what got us to where we are now -- an election with the two most disdained, least trusted and most detested of any presidential candidates in history. How did we get to this?

There is no one influence to blame or one incident or person. This situation took years to develop. We didn't fall off this cliff without climbing to the summit. This is how we got here:

  •  We have an educational system that is not promoting citizenship and civic pride. We have become so self-conscious about historical actions that are now considered hateful, uncivilized and cruel that we forget that people of history lived in a different world with a different set of standards. And Americans were not alone in being on the "wrong side" of the newly aware standards. Slavery, second-class status for women, child labor, and other offenses were universally tolerated at some time by nearly every culture. Young people today do not know history and cannot learn from it or make realistic judgments. Numerous examples are available of high school- and college-educated young people not knowing what the Civil War was about, not knowing who were the Allies of World War II, not knowing the meaning of "Manifest Destiny" or the American melting pot.

  • Our entertainment culture has become a dangerous substitute for education. Americans cannot name Supreme Court justices, their senators or the three branches of government, but they know the names of movie stars and singers and all their friends.

  • Money has distorted politics and election campaigns, forcing candidates to constantly raise money from big donors and to use that money to attack their opponents. Congress has become so polarized that members barely communicate with members of the other party. Political "experts" on each side lie in wait for a misplaced word or an unfiltered sentence from political opponents, and they build their campaigns and their strategies around these "gaffes," rather than serious dialogue on important policies.

  •  The news media, which is dominated by broadcast and online media, are too much controlled by managers steeped in entertainment instead of pure news. As a result, they focus on unimportant spectacles, such as Hillary Clinton's private email or Donald Trump's hands, instead of important matters, such as North Korea's nuclear arsenal or Putin's vision of a dominant Russia.

  •  Worst of all, poorly educated, entertainment-focused Americans with very brief attention spans refuse to think seriously about the most serious issues of the day. Those issues are out there, hidden behind the salivating coverage of insults, attacks and wayward comments.

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