I care about those things that unite us as a people. For example, Democrats care that Russia is trying to rig the election. They also care about “dark money” rigging the election. Republicans also care about the integrity of our electoral system. And that’s a good thing. We should care about the integrity of our system.
Our politicians are so powerful that we should care if someone tries to corrupt them. One way in which power corrupts is by being attractive to people who want it. One of the simplest and easiest ways to address this problem is to just give politicians less power. Take away the politicians’ power and we take away some of the incentive to corrupt them. But is there any evidence of our system being corrupted?
Open Secrets, a research group working for the Center for Responsive Politics, found that Donald Trump has had just over $40 million in dark money spent on his behalf by outside groups. And Hillary Clinton has had over $140 million in dark money spent on her behalf by outside groups. Hillary Clinton has had over three times the amount of dark money spent on her behalf.
But that amount is dwarfed by the amount of “free media” that candidates get. On March 15 of this year, Nicholas Confessore and Karen Yourish published in The New York Times their study that found Donald Trump benefitting from nearly $2 billion in “free media,” dwarfing every other candidate including Hillary Clinton. Now, more than six months later, it may be impossible to measure how much “free media” each candidate is getting. But it clearly makes a difference in our politics. And people on both sides care about the integrity of the process.
When Republicans complain about the media’s manipulations, Democrats scoff dismissively that we shouldn’t complain about the truth being published. And then Democrats complain about Russia leaking their internal communications. Sure, it’s true. But the evidence of the intent to manipulate is what people rightly care about. That’s what really unites us as a people. We understand that it matters, and we care that people are being manipulated.
Donald Trump has come under fire for questioning the integrity of our electoral system. Liberal commentators suggest that he’s hurting America by undermining faith in our elections. Reporters at papers such as the Washington Free Beacon have found numerous instances of Democrats questioning the integrity of our electoral system, too.
But if questioning the integrity of our electoral system undermines faith in it, how much worse is it to undermine our faith in each other? America is not our electoral system, America is the people. And when the media demonizes half of America as “deplorable”, or alleges that tens of millions of Americans are brain-dead zombies who are only capable of being manipulated by propaganda, what effect does that have on our faith in each other?
One effect we can see this year is that people wind up supporting candidates they don’t even like because they believe the other side is worse. Neither side really likes its own candidate, but we caricature the other side as all the same, and you know how “those people” are. We should care more about the media instigating divisions among the people because we still have more in common than the media wants us to think about.
Caricaturing others also results in a failure to question ourselves, often leading us to believe strongly in something we don’t even understand. When we say to ourselves that all the reasonable people believe something, it implies that anyone who disagrees must be unreasonable. This shrinks the areas where reasonable disagreement can be made. Guns? Abortion? Race? We can’t have reasonable discussions because only one view is permissible. Disagreement is considered not just unreasonable, it’s alleged to be proof that someone is too defective to understand the truth. Often, when we think everyone who disagrees is incapable of understanding our point, we stop discussing it. Sometimes we start yelling. Or worse, we may think that if the other side is dishonest, then it justifies being dishonest ourselves.
But we still have more in common than the media leads us to believe. Democrats, for example, voted for Barack Obama because they believed him to be a change agent who would disrupt the status quo. And Republicans support Donald Trump because we believe him to be a change agent who will disrupt the status quo. When Democrats wonder how anyone could support a man who speaks and behaves the way he does, it is because Republicans see those things as signs that Trump is not just another typical politician who has already been corrupted by the system. He’s different, just as Democrats believed in 2008 that Obama was different. Republicans want change too.
And as Barack Obama said about Hillary Clinton, “She’ll say anything, and change nothing.”
I’ll be voting for a Republican administration this year because I think things need to change, and that is more likely to happen with a Republican administration. But I don’t believe that everyone who disagrees with me is a caricature. I think we still have a lot in common. And I hope that we remember what unites us, because we need to think past this election.
John J. Hickox is an Army veteran of the war in Iraq, graduate of the University of Alabama School of Law, and practicing attorney in Illinois.