Strong language, violence, mature sexual content. It sounds like the description of an R-rated film (and it is) but it is also a pretty accurate description of content in the 2016 presidential election.
Deplorables, demons and p**** are just a few of the offensive terms that have entered the public discourse during this election courtesy of the candidates and their supporters. The whole show has quickly become an event for the 18 and over crowd.
However the presidential race of 2016 ends, it will be a historic moment, yielding either the country’s first female president or the oldest president in history (Donald Trump is 70) and first president to have never held a political or military office all rolled into one. But getting to the finish line may bring about the undoing of modern civility.
Nearly all Americans, 95 percent, say civility is a problem. Almost three-quarters say civility has declined in the past few years, according to Civility in America 2016 — an ongoing poll by communication firms Weber Shandwick and Powell Tate with KRC Research.
Almost all likely voters (93 percent) say a candidate’s tone or level of civility will be an important factor in deciding how they cast their votes in the 2016 presidential election. And civility is a very important factor for more than half of all voters.
“For a long time people took civility for granted and felt like it would always be an element of our society. People are beginning to recognize that isn’t necessarily so,” said Cassandra Dahnke, co-founder of the non-profit, non-partisan, Institute for Civility in Government.
When we reach this level of incivility, it’s time to hit the reset button. “We need to shift the narrative and shift the culture from one of polarization and antagonism to one of mutual respect and cooperative action,” Dahnke said.
But we can’t just sit back and expect our politicians to engage one another in a civil manner. We have to hold ourselves to the same standards.
“In the case of many of those who run for office — at any level of government — many people feel like they can’t get the audience or support or attention they need to get their message across unless they go negative,” said Dahnke. “Constituents bear part of the blame for that. We are going to be sold what we buy.”
We can already see the negative consequences of all the smack talking — keeping the government from taking action on important issues, losing stature as a nation, and creating a barrier to discussing controversial issues — but the nastiness knows no end.
This isn’t the first time our country has fallen so low.
The founding fathers were getting down and dirty as early as 1800 when John Adams found himself running against his vice-president, Thomas Jefferson. The two had been buddies in 1776 when they started this whole United States thing, but became divided by party politics. At election time, Jefferson’s camp thought it a wise strategy to compare Adams to a hermaphrodite. Adams’ supporters shot back by calling Jefferson a half-breed.
If it all sounds familiar, you’re following well. Remember the days of the Republican primaries when “little” Marco Rubio remarked on Trump’s little hands? We know what they say about men with little hands, said Rubio. Some people might call those men hermaphroditic.
Meanwhile, Trump went after Ted Cruz– not for being a half-breed — but for being born in Canada which pretty much carried the same suggestion that we somehow were not dealing with a full-blooded American.
Historians often say the nastiest election in history was the one that took place in 1828 between John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson. That election involved a lot of name calling including slut (Jackson’s wife) and pimp (Adams). While in the current election, the candidates’ camps may have stopped short of using those exact terms, the suggestions are certainly there.
The release of the Trump tapes in which we hear the candidate talking about his way with women and how he “grabs them by the p****” and “I just kiss them” was a shock to American senses. It wasn’t the first time we heard Trump used the p-word. He repeated the word from the podium during the New Hampshire primary when a female audience member shouted it out in reference to Cruz.
Trump responded to the release of the hot mic recording of his comments about women by offering a pre-debate platform to several women who openly accused Clinton’s husband of sexual misconduct and assault.
It’s up to you to decide who is the pimp and who is the slut in these scenarios.
With each day, the current campaign brings a host of new unsavory terms from the candidates and their supporters. Clinton labeled Trump supporters “deplorables,” a term she later apologized for using. Radio host/conspiracy theorist Alex Jones called President Obama and Hillary Clinton “demons” and said they “both smell like sulfur.”
That doesn’t even touch the profanity and violence coming from members of the general public who are fond of cursing and using derogatory terms on social media when talking about politics. Normally, such things would be difficult to quantify, but Electome, a tool developed at MIT Media Lab’s Laboratory for Social Machines, tracks the lack of civility in Twitter conversations.
The data for this election is as bad as you think. After a presidential debate, the number of tweets that are laced with insults, profanity, vulgarity and violent threats can hit 100,000 per day. Topics of race, immigration and health care seem to have brought out the brute in us all.
Dahnke said we have to first stop engaging in uncivil behavior ourselves and find ways that go beyond surveys and polls to communicate to politicians our dissatisfaction with the lack of civility in politics.
“I can and I do go to Capitol Hill on a regular basis and (the politicians) know about the surveys but that is not what they are hearing from their constituents,” she said. “The people who want to bring a more respectful, moderate tone to the governing process need to get more involved. So much of what politics has become has turned off so many people that they are running in the opposite direction and that is the wrong thing to do.”
Tell us your story: Forget the polls and the pundits, we want to know how the 2016 election is affecting your life. Has the election created tensions at home, school or work? Forced you to unfriend loved ones because of their rants about politics? Or have you been inspired to plant a campaign sign in your yard for the first time? We want to show how Georgians are experiencing this extraordinary election year. Email firstname.lastname@example.org