Terry H. Schwadron
Aug. 11, 2020
We definitely have arrived In the political silly season.
Expect reason, fact, and problem-solving to exit immediately, and bring in the circus of made-up realities, posturing and immediate jumps on the other guy for some of the weirdest that the foe can spurt.
It means Donald Trump expects us to pay attention as he says Joe Biden doesn’t believe in God or gun ownership, and for Democrats to jump on Trump’s mispronunciation of Yosemite, as if he never heard of the national park. Or that he does or (ten minutes later) does not want to eliminate Social Security or see his image added to Mt. Rushmore.
It means that Trump will announce daily that he is a public health genius even as coronavirus deaths pass 160,000 Americans, and Biden is going out of his way to avoid embracing AOC, as if progressives are all lining up behind him with enthusiasm.
The silly season means polls and maps, often contradictory, that show very general trends, but have little predictive value, especially in an election whose emotions are going to create a big wave of voting — once we figure out how we actually can safely distribute, collect and count ballots.
It means look at me.
The little brouhaha this week over a location for the Trump nomination speech is a good example. Trump wanted to give it from the White House, which the Hatch Act says is illegal for any federal employee who would set it up but the president to undertake. So, instead, Trump now says he wants the battlefield at Gettysburg, which, of course, is also federal property and subject to the same restrictions.
The polls, of course, reflect the views of people who have landline phones and who choose to undertake the questions, all sent through weighting programs based on past voting patterns by area, education, age and other factors. They don’t account for turnout. A bigger than expected turnout and poll takers who lie can make the poll results dicey.
Hearing What We Want
Nationally, Biden seems consistently ahead, but some websites and the Trump campaign are bannering polls that show much closer comparisons, particularly in states like Pennsylvania. The cable stations already are rolling out electoral college maps, then offering what feels like 20 minutes of caveats to say they may not be so.
In the same week, polls that seem rather consistent over time show a tight race for Senate in Kentucky with Sen. Mitch McConnell actually behind challenger Amy McGrath by a point, then a poll by a Kentucky news outlet said McConnell is ahead by 17 points.
Silly season, indeed.
Even when this divided country can agree on the realities we face — which is increasingly unusual — we disagree about what it means. Thus, we have no idea at this point how opening any schools makes sense in the middle of a pandemic for which we have no plan, or agreement on taking the most preventive steps.
But in pursuit of ego and re-election, the claims by Trump that the pandemic will magically disappear, and the hope that Biden can do better remains just that.
The desire to simply turn off the faucet of constant political posturing is palpable. The idea that Trump thinks it improves his standing with voters to seek time every afternoon to repeat the same things over and over seems as ludicrous as the daily fund-raising pleas from Democrats to gain more equal air time.
Consider this thought from Ashley Parker, who covers the White House for The Washington Post: “More than 3½ years into his presidency, Trump increasingly finds himself minimized and ignored — as many of his more outlandish or false statements are briefly considered and then, just as quickly, dismissed. The slide into partial irrelevance could make it even more difficult for Trump as he seeks reelection as the nation’s leader amid a pandemic and economic collapse.”
Thus, more outlandishness from 45.
Deciding the Election
This election is being decided by emotion, not fact. This election is being decided by a vision of values, not advertising. Without some huge October surprise (I fear it is a Barr announcement of “Obamagate” criminal charges rather than arrival of a vaccine) it seems unwise to think that vast numbers of voters are going to change their minds between now and four weeks from now, when early voting opens.
Whatever you think about the direction of the country, we ought to be able agree that no one is going to suddenly decide that God is on Trump’s side, as he would have us believe. Nor should we believe that with a wave of his magic executive order wand that Trump is suddenly solving everything from access health care to prescription drug prices to law and order in our cities. And for Trump to pick on Doctors Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birks over his own gut definitely qualifies as wacky.
So, too, are made-up or renewed executive orders that exist only for political use and not as true policies.
Indeed, Trump’s silliness about how to wield political power and how to use the influence of his presidential voice in pursuit of personal gain is a key issue in the election.
Nor should we think that the Biden vice presidential voice is as spell-binding as the media coverage suggests. Indeed, the conclusion should be that Biden has a choice of solid candidates, and that the group of candidates likely will resolve to be the heart of his Cabinet, regardless of title. And, it shouldn’t be just me saying so, spending $300 million on television advertising to tell people what they already know seems, um, silly. In this year, with such divergent candidates, do you know people who really will change their mind because of advertising?
How about feeding people instead?
If anything, the silly season ought to remind us — and the candidates themselves — that there are some very important, serious issues at hand, from the handling of pandemic to joblessness to the need for self-reflection about race and class in our society.
I don’t have time or patience for candidate silliness.