By Peter Fenn | Contributor USNews and World Report
Sept. 21, 2016, at 3:15 p.m.
I have been teaching courses on campaign advertising and presidential politics at George Washington University for more than 20 years. There have been a lot of students, a lot of case studies and a lot of ads created since the mid 1990s. There have been a lot of changes in our politics during that time in terms of the explosion of money spent, the rapidly developing technology, the longer, more grueling campaigns, the 24/7 news cycle and the souring mood in the country.
But, this year – campaign 2016 – is a whole new ball game. The question is: Is it an aberration or is it the “new normal” for our politics? Is this a precursor of what is to come or just a terrible outlier that we will get over and move back to regular order?
Has the unacceptable become the acceptable? I am worried that it has. Let us count the ways: A campaign season so long and drawn out that voters border on exhaustion. An electorate consumed with negative information and negative views of both candidates calling into question our electoral system. An almost complete lack of focus on substantive issues and differences between the candidates on policy makes them irrelevant in this years’ campaign – it is almost all personal. The level of vitriol coming from the Trump side is unprecedented in modern politics. The negative language, the coarse subject matter, the nasty tweets are so ubiquitous that they have resulted in a permanent fog of depression among voters.
The press needs to stop grasping for false equivalencies between Trump and Clinton.
From the start of Trump’s campaign it has been a vacuous collection of insults, racial and ethnic prejudice, gross personal attacks, and an almost total lack of knowledge of the issues the nation faces. He has shown himself to be unfit for office, as President Barack Obama charged: Trump “is not fit in any way, shape, of form to represent this country abroad or to be its commander-in-chief.” He has been called out by many Republicans, such as former Gov. Mitt Romney and Sen. Lindsey Graham; former President George H. W. Bush indicated he will even vote for Clinton.
Never before has one candidate, by simply opening his mouth, done so much to insult so many in such a short span of time. By attacking Muslims, he has pushed more people into distrusting and hating America; by insulting Hispanics and refugees he has undermined the basic values of our country and fanned the flames of prejudice and hatred; by personally attacking his opponents with lies he has legitimized political discourse of the basest kind. When PolitiFact judges more than 52 percent of his statements as “false” or “pants on fire” and another 17 percent to be “mostly false,” we know we have a candidate who has a problem with the truth. His statements were “awarded” PolitiFact’s 2015 Lie of the Year. What an award!
Even if Trump does not eventually prevail on Nov. 8, his candidacy has led us down a very dangerous path of anything goes, nothing is off the table, the ends totally justify the means and you can say or do anything, no matter how outrageous and wrong, and you won’t pay the consequences. If campaign 2016 becomes the norm, America has indeed lost its moral compass.