Thursday, January 28, 2016

I Don't Want to Talk About Donald Trump

If you've been following the 2016 American Presidential election campaign at all, you know that 95% of the campaign coverage has been devoted to Donald Trump. I've seen some really smart stuff written about Trump in recent days, including this gem from my friend Peter Trumbore. For a similar take by a different author, you can check this piece out as well.

It has been well-noted by now that Trump is a master at dominating the news cycle. He has gotten enormous amounts of attention by saying outrageous things. This is clearly a big part of his strategy - maybe the whole of it. Everywhere he goes (which is to say, everywhere on the nation's airwaves and social media) he causes arguments. He is, in a very real sense, the center of attention.

Which is precisely why I don't want to talk about him. It's not just that I dislike him as a leader and as a person (though I do). More importantly, I dislike the fact that we spend an enormous amount of time talking about things that don't matter nearly as much as the stuff we're not talking about. Trump, in this sense, is a symptom of a broken political system that seems incapable of fostering the kinds of conversations we really need to have as a society.

I've pointed this out in other contexts before, so this is not a new argument for me (see here and here and here, as examples). A mentor of mine in higher education some years ago was fond of saying, "college is a conversation". This is true of society as well. We go along and live our lives, but what defines us as a community is the conversations we have with each other. The better those conversations are, the stronger our communities are. This is yet another way in which life isn't the end result of a process - life is process.

I see little hope, at least through the primary season, that our political process is going to produce conversations that would be useful for us as a country. We're not talking about climate change and what (if anything) to do about it. We're not talking about major technological trends (in energy and elsewhere) that will change the way we live. We're not talking about relations between groups (black & white, gay & straight, and so many other divisions) and how to make them better so we can have a more just society. We're not talking about how we want our economy to work and who should benefit from what. We're not talking about how our resources should be distributed, and what our top priorities should be. Instead, we're talking about an obnoxious bully with a bad hairpiece.

This will sound counterintuitive, for a political scientist, but if I have one request it is this: stop paying attention to the Presidential campaign. Spend a little bit of time picking your favorite candidate and then shut the rest of it out. It is a waste of time, it is imparting enormous amounts of negativity across the country, and it isn't producing anything of value. Find a way to have a conversation about something else with your friends, your neighbors, your coworkers, online. When the time comes, go and vote and then forget about it.

It is elementary that we only achieve things that matter when we decide to focus on the things that matter. Maybe later this year, the Presidential campaign will reach that stage. For now, I'm going to find something else to think about.

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