With the 2017 off-year election now history, let the real games begin – the verbal fisticuffs, jousting, infighting, bickering, backstabbing and attacking leading up to the Nov. 6, 2018, midterm election. Once those results are tabulated, expect no break in the action, because the 2020 presidential campaign will have begun.
Translation: From now until Election Day, Nov. 3, 2020, the media and political establishment will be embroiled in the “permanent campaign” played continuously on a “show” I call, “Political Entertainment Tonight.”
Sadly, this permanent campaign show is a race to the bottom, where truth is often lost or convoluted – but we love to watch anyway. Correction, we don’t just love to watch; millions devour all the campaign “news,” drama and comedy available on demand across numerous media platforms.
Campaigns are often so riveting, “you can’t make this stuff up” is an overused phrase popularized by pundits gasping at the latest political outrage.
Hearts go pitter-patter when breaking news forces candidates to disclose, confirm or deny some newly discovered chapter in their past. Perhaps it is a sexual peccadillo; a financial misstep; or even an inartful sexist, racist, or homophobic statement. It could be an embellished resume, a Facebook fiasco, a tweet too far, an embarrassing big donor – you name it – if it’s tawdry, it will surface during the 2018-20 season. Of course, the closer to the primary or general election, the better.
That’s why news and political comedy show ratings have soared during recent election years.
It’s as if campaigns are expected to have plot twists involving real or “fake” news (who can even tell the difference these days?); otherwise the media and voters lose interest. There is nothing worse than being tagged as a boring, “policy-wonk” candidate.
Let’s face it, we the voting audience relish hearing dirt, especially from opposing party candidates. Inevitably, dirt is followed by the question, “Can this candidate survive?” Then, shortly after and right on cue … the apology act.
Our excessively long political campaigns have morphed into a unique combination of kabuki dance, theatre of the absurd and a three-ring circus.
In fact, “The Circus,” Showtime’s popular, aptly named real-time political documentary was first produced during the 2016 presidential campaign, and that was supposed to be the end of the show. But just weeks into the Trump administration, the president of Showtime realized the circus had only just begun, and ordered a second season covering Trump’s first 100 days. And now Showtime is contemplating coming back in 2018 to exploit all the bombastic outrages, scandals and perverse entertainment value it can squeeze out of the ongoing histrionics in our nation’s capital and the midterm elections.
Politics is show business, baby! Grab some popcorn and laugh at the outlandish gyrations we put our leaders through while they are trying to win a seat to help solve our nation’s mounting problems.
Truthfully, few voters expect elected leaders to solve any problems. The vast majority of Americans are disgusted by government ineptitude, and that explains why politics is a joke and a profitable entertainment vehicle. The joke perspective further explains why many voters, especially the young, base their votes on what they see on “Saturday Night Live” or hear on numerous political comedy shows.
Thus, the American people watch and enjoy the antics of the permanent campaign similar to how the Romans enjoyed gladiator death matches – minus the real blood. But politics is still a blood sport. Now your smartphone has become a virtual Colosseum offering everyone a front-row seat in which to enjoy the permanent campaign show. Virtual blood is shed too when political careers are destroyed after an industrious reporter uncovers a buried secret or posts a sizzling leak. The people cheer as their “enemy” falls and their team wins.
Another unfortunate aspect of the permanent campaign show is how extensive political resumes and time in elective office seem to matter less now that showmanship drives a candidate’s success.
Is it any wonder, then, that a reality TV star named Donald Trump unofficially but actively campaigning for president since 2013 was elected in 2016?
Also, remember back in 2008 when our nation elected a “rock star” president? During that campaign, then-Sen. Obama, a political neophyte, was condescendingly but rightfully called the “biggest celebrity in the world” in a television commercial by his Republican presidential opponent. Ironically, Obama was heavily criticized by most Republicans for having the thinnest political resume in preparation for the White House.
Politics as show business did not happen overnight.
With entertainment and showmanship fueling the permanent campaign, discussions of issues and policy are reduced to 30-second sound bites. Naturally, the media earn higher ratings from scandal. But, during a lull, rather than discuss important issues at length, pundits focus on how much money candidates have raised along with silly mini-controversies, and who’s up or down. Then, the permanent campaign eventually evolves into a sporting event, with polls as the scoreboards.
Is any normal American voter looking forward to the 2018-20 permanent campaign? I think not. These next three years are shaping up to be among the most contentious in U.S. post-war history. Political polarization will continue to grow and harden. There are few boundaries for what candidates can say or imply about their opponents.
Most important, enthralling plot lines are taking shape:
Will impeachment proceedings begin against Trump if Democrats win control of both the House and the Senate?
Will Russia or other rogue nations employ new clandestine ways to hack or intervene in our election?
How many candidates will get hacked?
Will media bias reach new heights?
Will social media grow to totally dominate the permanent campaign?
And finally, that overarching question: “Is Trump making America great again?”
The stage is set. Lights, camera, action and let the permanent campaign begin!
We can expect an entertaining political fight to the death in the virtual Colosseum, and there will be blood, possibly literally, but definitely figuratively.