The Vocabulary of the 2016 Presidential Election

The following post, written by The Rev. Robert A. Franek, is a part of Politicus Policy Discussion, in which writers draw connections between real lives and public policy.

I am troubled by what a word cloud of this year’s presidential race rhetoric world look like. A year ago I never would have guessed the words that have become common place today. Less shocking but still noteworthy are the words that are absent from much of the discussion and have been for years.

It is telling that among the words I imagine to be big and bold in this presidential word cloud are bigot, racist, and emails. And that xenophobic, liar, and fear are not far behind is also revealing. That one candidate is accurately described as petulant, has frequent temper tantrums on Twitter, and a campaign that has been likened to a dumpster fire shows how far one party has plummeted from the discourse fitting of the highest office in the land.

On the other side, the most qualified candidate in recent history, who has substantive policies to serve the common good of all, is beset by faux scandals over emails. (Add scandal our word cloud.) Additionally, she has to respond to this and the degrading obtuseness of her opponent, rather than promoting the positive qualities of her policies. And since we have yet to reach full equality among women and men, she is subject to sexist remark and critique.

The rhetoric surrounding this presidential election is not only disturbing for reaching new lows, but also for its effect on the electorate who must endure it or be left largely uninformed, which is unacceptable for the responsible citizen in a democracy. The toll the Trump campaign has had on the human spirit along with the weight of the congressional conspiracy cloud that follows Clinton everywhere she goes is exhausting and distressing.

These realities are not helped by the mainstream media. No, instead they are magnified and repeated ad nauseam. More, because the media can’t afford the lost profits of election coverage that is anything less than a neck-and-neck horse race, false equivalency has been introduced into nearly every “debate” such that the voter on the street thinks both candidates are equally bad for the future of these United States. Never mind the vast difference in record and rhetoric between Clinton and Trump.

Nevertheless, as afflicting as all this is on the soul of the electorate, I am troubled by the souls that are noticeably absent from the presidential campaign trails.

Last week I lifted up the poor and hungry ones in our country and world. It is worth mentioning the struggle of the hungry again. In this age of plenty it is shameful that so many especially the most vulnerable: children, seniors, and people with disabilities struggle to have enough healthful food to eat.

The epidemic of homelessness in our country is also worth much study and conversation in today’s presidential politics. The increasing number of families with young children who are without a home is staggering and the lack of adequate shelters and transitional housing options more so. Rather than talking about building a wall on our boarder how about a conversation about building homes in our communities for the homeless.

After every high profile shooting in the country there is much talk about addressing mental health, however as soon as the news cycle moves on the discussion dries up. Still, it is not only in the context of gun safety that this conversation is needed, but also for the many that are isolated and ostracized because of their disease. As much as people with cancer, heart disease, and diabetes need our attention, so too do those with depression, anxiety, and substance abuse or eating disorders need our compassionate care in policy and presence.

In addition to addressing the socioeconomic issues of our day, the broken criminal justice and immigration systems, all dimensions of foreign policy, and the military industrial complex, it is imperative that we address the pervasiveness of rape culture in our society. The victim blaming has got to stop. Perpetrators must be held accountable and punished according their crimes not their status. But most of all we need a sea change in our culture where boys are not socialized to disrespect women. Putting an end to “boys will be boys” and other harmful rhetoric is worthy of the presidential pulpit.

This is but a short beginning to the many in our county and world deserving of presidential platform time and attention in the media. I fear that in the 70+ days remaining of this election cycle the rhetoric will yet find new lows, before rising again to that which dignifies the high office.

However, I also believe that we the people, convicted by faith or shared moral values, can raise the bar with our voices and demand definitive attention be given to the vulnerable in our world who are in most need of protection and care through policy decisions that just might begin with a presidential promise from that high pulpit that is intended to speak out for the lowly.