SALT LAKE CITY — Today’s question for America: What word would you use to describe the current political season?
Civil? Angry? Honest? Dishonest? Troubling? Incoherent?
One journalist colleague offered this: consuming. “The election was a factor in all national events that transpired this year, from the impeachment trial to the pandemic to the economic downturn and even in sports,” he said, noting Deseret News reporter Ethan Bauer’s weekend piece, “Why are politics coming to college football.”
One Baby Boomer Salt Lake County woman said the word for this political season is: nonsensical. “None of it makes any sense. None of it makes any difference. It’s just noise and noise and noise.” She spoke of the political debates and said debates used to be about scoring points based on the legal or lawful premise, and logic of one’s considered position or argument. “Now it’s people just up there yelling. It seems to have devolved into choosing which one disgusts you the least.”
Another 40ish colleague offered this: “This is a big task. It is so much easier to describe this political season by what it is not. It is not civil, respectful or dignified. It is not unifying. We have not elevated the conversation and we have not examined the issues. And there are no statesmen to be found.” She then offered her one word description: schismatic.
“I know this word is typically used in a religious context, but it feels like there has been a formal division within the nation, a separation from what we used to expect from the political process and those who engage in it,” she said.
“Censored” came the reply from a 20-something Trump supporter. “Any attempt at exposing corruption, dishonesty and deceit from the left is covered up, censored or just blatantly ignored by social media and mainstream news,” he said, pulling no punches. He and I often talk about the media, as you might imagine.
“Stressful” was the word offered by a colleague, a reporter used to the stress of deadlines, among other things. “People aren’t just fighting over who should be elected. They’re fighting over whether it’s safe to vote in person during a pandemic, whether the results will be legitimate and what the real meaning of America is,” she said.
“Dispiriting” said one local business executive, who for many years was directly engaged in politics. “The political process — whether running, serving or trying to pass legislation — is meant to be hard and not for the faint of heart,” he said. “But today’s political atmosphere — exemplified by the White House — has never been more toxic or mean-spirited.”
A Salt Lake woman offered something similar: disheartening. “The attacks seem so far below where we should be as citizens of a nation that was built on such immense sacrifice from people of diverse backgrounds,” she said. “The divisiveness, unwillingness to see another’s viewpoint, and inability to treat others with respect leaves me disheartened when we’re capable of so much more.”
That leads to the next description: combative. “Broaching politics in almost any context is to risk a fight,” said this millennial colleague. “In so many situations, it seems people believe their own political opinions are somehow threatened or at risk if there are others who do not agree. I have seen it in workplaces, on social media, in my own family. It is painful and unnecessary.”
My colleague Boyd Matheson offered this: revealing. It was echoed by a young Utah County woman, a mother of four, who also said “revealing,” and offered this: “This election has pulled back a curtain on humanity’s true convictions. Every individual has been forced to look inward and evaluate what matters most to them, what they themselves represent, and what they want to support,” she said.
Matheson, who as opinion editor of the Deseret News has spoken about the political process on radio and TV throughout the country in 2020, said it reveals something not just about the candidates, the political parties, the citizens and the media. “It also reveals principles and values that are required to move the country forward,” he said.
Revealing comes close to my own feelings on this. We have revealed something about the country. Something about resiliency. Something about each of us.
So the word I would choose to describe this political season is perhaps unexpected. I choose: hopeful.
It’s a word that makes sense after going through the exercise of asking people how they describe the political season. Each person I reached out to was in charge of their own answer, gave it thought, and came from a position of wanting the country to be better. They have perspective. They offered context, and most importantly, they each have a vote. And that gives me hope.
Elections matter and the choice of candidate is important. But far more important is the necessity for the citizenry to engage in the political process. It’s our process, not the politicians’. The citizenry remains in charge.
It says something about the country when the president of the United States and the former vice president voluntarily stand facing a member of the media, in this case Kristen Welker of NBC News, under the threat of being muted if they failed to follow debate rules.
One can lament the need for a mute button, brought about by the previous debate’s incivility. Or we can applaud that a solution was found that the candidates ultimately honored. I can’t see that happening in many other countries. And that gives me hope for ours.
The preamble to the Constitution remains foundational to who we are. I suspect if I’d given my associates a chance to pick three words instead of one that describe the process the answer might have come back: we the people.