My friends are still on a high from last week's election, ecstatic over the progressive outcomes: Obama's reelection, advances for gay marriage, impressive strides for women, etc. Though I, too, am pleased with the many positive results, the whole election has left a bad taste in my mouth. Big American elections bring out the worst in people's natures. The euphoria from the results may erase the ugliness temporarily, but the enmity and spite is still present, just under the surface.
I spent the morning of Election Day volunteering at a children's hospital. While inside the confines of the hospital, I was shut off from the campaigns for a few hours, and I could witness some of the best examples of human nature: nurses, therapists, doctors and staff members all working to benefit others and help kids of all races, religions, family backgrounds and cultures. There was no prejudice, no pettiness, no nastiness. Politics play no part in this environment. Watching kids bravely struggling with illnesses and overcoming injuries makes all else secondary.
There was a noticeable contrast in the country outside the hospital walls. As I drove home after my shift, I turned on the radio and was inundated with venomous political commercials. These ads do not educate listeners about a candidate; rather, they manipulate the listener by vilifying opponents. Half-truths and outright lies are spoken about a competitor. Ominous music is played while the opponent's name is spoken, as if the hated politician were a mustachioed villain in a melodrama. The ads end with the sponsored politician, underscored by light, airy music, declaring, "I approve this message." Approve what? Slander, mud slinging and belittlement?
As I turned onto a long, straight stretch of highway, hundreds of signs stretched out to the horizon in front of me. These signs were all the same, one after another, each promoting the presidential candidate of one of the two major parties. Why? Hundreds of repetitive signs will not change anyone's vote They are merely an assertion of power, the equivalent of a dog peeing to mark territory. Just a few days earlier the same stretch of road was littered with the other major party's signs for its presidential candidate.
In the weeks before the election, people became vehement in expressing their political opinions. Public discourse included both subtle and explicit messages of homophobia, misogyny and racism. There was talk of a "war" on this and a "war" on that. Did this affect anyone's votes? Billions of dollars -- not millions but billions -- were spent to spread messages of prejudice, aggression and anger. Imagine if that money had been spent doing something positive. Imagine if those billions had been put toward the children's hospital where I volunteer, or into the health care system as a whole. Imagine if, instead of spending money to talk about how a candidate might help people, the money had been given to people who need help.
All that ugliness that reared its head during the campaign is still out there. The campaign gave us a glimpse into the selfishness and lack of empathy present in our society. This vicious side of American life may be dormant temporarily as we put the election behind us, but what will be the next trigger to bring it forward? Next time, will billions of dollars be wasted? Are we too far down this road to change the discourse into something productive and spend money on something helpful?