It’s Time To Change The Way Our Presidential Elections Are Held
America is the poster boy of democracy, the land of the free and the home of the brave. We pride ourselves on following the democratic process to the letter, even if we strongly disagree with the result. It’s what makes America great (it’s already great, we don’t need to make it great again.)
But despite our love for democracy, our democratic process is far from perfect. It’s time to change the way our presidential elections are held. With each passing election, the line between reality and entertainment becomes more and more blurred. Our presidential candidates are now acting more like contestants in the season finale of American Idol – rather than applicants for the most powerful job in the world. Like it or not, that is what our electoral process has become and we need to make elections great again.
The most recent series started with the plot line of the underdog business tycoon going up against the might of the establishment Clinton machine. He was laughed at, then ignored, then taken seriously. “Can this outsider beat the might of the Clintons? Stay tuned for the next episode to find out. Don’t forget to tune in for the grand finale – where you, the audience get to vote on the winner!” Our presidential elections are now the ultimate reality TV, expertly produced for a nation addicted to it.
In the most recent election, the presidential candidates dedicated large amounts of time to creating sound bites that could be covered by the news media. They were pandering to the lowest common denominators rather than focusing on the real facts and issues. Issues that much of the politically competent population wanted to hear about, but were mainly drowned out by the noise. Policy should be the cornerstone of any presidential campaign, Democrat or Republican.
This is not a competition to decide who will be a famous singer for the next 8 to 12 months (before unceremoniously fading into obscurity, and taking a job as an entertainer on a cruise ship). This is a presidential election, the outcome of which will impact the lives of millions of people all around the world. This new level of pandering to the media was exploited most recently of course by Donald Trump. The president-elect (who is undoubtedly a master of marketing) did not produce much information on his actual policies during the presidential campaign. Instead, Trump went full throttle trying to appease the news media with stories of controversy. He was a ratings machine. It was unlike anything we have ever seen before in an election. He insulted women, he insulted the disabled, he insulted Mexican Americans, he insulted Muslims.
In fact, he insulted just about everyone who was not an American white Christian male.
Each and every time he intentionally created the controversies, the media had afield day. Each one was more shocking than the last, which consistently earned Trump airtime on news media networks across the world. The amount of coverage that trump earned through his strategy was unprecedented. To put a figure on how much this helped his presidential campaign, let’s look at the numbers.
The New York Times estimated that the coverage was worth over $2 billion. To put this into perspective, Obama spent $1.12 billion (in total) on his 2012 campaign. Trump almost doubles this figure, just by making inappropriate comments during speeches. It would be nice to assume we could expect our presidential candidates to rise above this easy and effective method to increase visibility. They are supposed to be the cream of the crop when it comes to ethics, morality, and integrity. It would also be nice to assume this was just something Trump did. I would love to be able to point the finger, and move on with my life.
But during the campaign Hillary was not innocent of pandering either, she just did it differently. In fact, no presidential candidate is. The idea of winning votes by gaining news media exposure is not a new one. Hillary stuck to the traditional method of doing newsworthy public appearances and making strong bold statements without crossing the line of controversy.
This is a tried and true strategy that is not something I really have a problem with. A little bit of pandering is fine by me.
Trump, however, took it to a new level. He understood that controversy is much more valuable to the news media than business as usual. Hillary was playing the same game using a different strategy, Trump just outplayed her by offending people. It is hard to blame the presidential candidates for playing up to this obvious shift in how the public consumes political news. They are aiming their efforts towards getting media coverage because they have to. If they did not, their opponent would gain a sizeable advantage in the polls.
Just look at what happened to Hillary, this election was supposed to be in the bag for her from Day 1. So what we are left with is presidential elections becoming a reality TV show that candidates are almost forced to join. Would Trump have been elected without the media circus around him? It’s hard to say, but he won, and that’s that. We as politically competent people need to find a way to bring the pre post-truth era of politics back to the masses. If we don’t, what Trump started could be just the beginning.
So how do we solve this issue? Quite honestly I don’t know. I am hoping people much smarter than me are already thinking about how we drag our election coverage out of the gutter. But what I can say for sure, is that its not going to be easy. The reason it is going to be so difficult to do anything to remove this presidential pantomime is that both parties involved are benefiting from it massively. The presidential candidate wins publicity worth billions of dollars, and the news media wins millions of additional viewers for advertisers. It’s hard to imagine that the will to change exists from the news media. And it’s hard to imagine that future presidential candidates will not see the potential of a little controversy, to generate coverage after witnessing Trumps strategy. Whatever we do, we need to start doing it as soon as possible. We need to change the way our presidential elections are held.