We all know about trickle down economics and its failings, but these days, trickle down politics is just as damaging.
It’s the brand of campaigning that infects our entire political system as candidates follow the lead of the man in the White House and set aside any respect for the truth and blindly pursue a “say whatever it takes” to hang on to power.
Today, it trickles down to races all over the country as candidates imitate the lies, vilification, rants, and cheap shots that flow daily from President Donald Trump. We see it here in the Tennessee race for the open United States Senate seat but even in the race for the state senate seat now held by Brian Kelsey in District 31.
Both reflect the president’s “I’ll do and say anything to stay in office” attitude with the same kind of fear-mongering and exaggerations that disregard the facts and represent what is toxic in today’s politics. Congresswoman Marshal Blackburn’s has a history of creating bogeymen to position herself as the only one who can save Tennessee values. This time it’s a caravan of “illegal” immigrants from Central American composed of thousands of criminals, terrorists, and gulp, Mid-Easterners, headed toward the United States, allowing her to pander once again to her version of “Tennessee values” rooted in racial and ethnic bias.
It’s a mystery how they are illegal when they are 1,000 miles away and say they plan to request asylum, a legal process under American law.
Clinging To Poverty
Mr. Kelsey’s support ads attacking his opponent, Gabby Salinas, are even more blatant in their scare tactics attacking someone who so fully represents the American Dream.
Her life story is the stuff of fiction – she moved as a child to Memphis from Bolivia as a seven-year-old for cancer treatment at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, and although most of her family were killed her in an automobile accident, she went on to become a United States citizen and a scientist at the hospital that saved her life.
With print and broadcast ads playing on the fear of “the other,” Mr. Kelsey paints her as a socialist in favor of sanctuary cities who would revel in the opportunity to rip benefits away from elderly white men on walkers.
More than anything, it raises the question: is there anything some candidates won’t say to stay in office?
The answer is clear in Mr. Kelsey’s campaigns and at this point, his campaign ads tell us about more than his blind political ambition. They tell us even more about his character.
The ads supporting him – and Mrs. Blackburn – are exemplars for how trickle down politics has devastated our political climate and the way that truth is now considered an inconvenience. It’s not surprising, considering that they take their cues from a president who has told (conservatively) more than 5,000 documented lies since taking office, leaving much of the voting public like the frogs boiling to death on the stove as temperatures rise. The lies are so demonstrably false and come with such speed that they dull the ability for the outrage that should accompany each one while 40% of the country unquestionably accepts them as the truth.
We are reminded of Joseph Welch, the Boston attorney for the U.S. Army who brought the era of McCarthyism to a close with his comments: “…You’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left to sense of decency?”
At that moment, Mr. Welch faced town intimidation by calling on American’s common humanity and commitment to fair play and the truth to bring down a politician who terrified so many people with his attacks on anyone who did not agree with him.
Faced so often today with similar intimidating attacks coming from the White House and in so many Trump acolytes running for office across the U.S, the question remains: Where exactly is the sense of decency?
We are not saying that other presidents didn’t lie – the Bush Administration did it so well that more than 50% of Republicans and more than 30% of Democrats still believe that weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq in 2003 – but what we are saying that the scale, the frequency, and intensity of lies coming from the president is unprecedented in the Oval Office.
Facts Are Facts
What is most frightening now is that the attacks feed a cult of personality that discard all objective truth in favor of opinions from the president, including descriptions of opponents as “enemies,” which anti-Semites, white nationalists, homophobes, and racists take as invitations to come out from under their rocks and move into the open where crackpot conspiracies once relegated to Info Wars, neo-Nazi sites, and Breitbart are now openly discussed and treated as reputable to the point they are discussed on Fox News (supporting multiple studies which have found that people who get their news only from Fox know less about the world and facts about current affairs than those who watch no news at all).
The thing about cults of personality is that they are built on the belief that only what the strong man at the top says is the truth. Everything else is fake news.
It is this nihilism that journalist Carl Bernstein – who received the Pulitzer Prize for uncovering the truth about the Watergate scandal while President Richard Nixon was claiming it was fake news – calls the war on the truth.
For the true believers, there is no objective truth or scientific fact. There is only the opinion of Mr. Trump which becomes the basis of an imagined world where a higher purpose and hopeful possibilities are sublimated to the president’s personal views.
It is a place where scientific facts are ridiculed and people are led to say things like, “I don’t believe in climate change.” Lost is the reality that science is not a belief system but a systematic study that reaches conclusions based on research, experimentation, and disciplined methodologies.
The biggest problem in this trickle down era is that without facts, we lack a framework for cooperation and a shared understanding in which we can engage in conversations about the values and ambitions that can advance the United States as the liberal democracy it was designed to be.
The good news is that the historical aberration of this presidency will pass. Our hope is that permanent damage to American institutions has not been done, but a first step is stepping back from the brink with a reaffirmation of the truth and facts in our public debate.
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