Feeling particularly brave I thought I’d return to the topic of a little religion and politics. Actually, more politics than religion, as these days these two disciplines seem to have a Grand Canyon-esque chasm between them.
Which brings me to 1960s radical Abbie Hoffman (how is that for a segue?). He wrote a book — a kind of “how to be a 60s radical for dummies” book — called (in typical 60s radical meter) “Steal This Book.” I’m not much of a radical, but that’s okay because “Steal This Book” isn’t much of a book either. But the sentiment might be reconfigured today with a new book I might write called, “Dump Your Television.”
Or at least turn off the television when it comes to political coverage. Regardless of your political persuasion, television provides plenty of fodder for blue-staters, red-staters and in-between staters to get depressed or even irritated over.
The more we watch the worse it gets. Where does religion enter the picture? Well, Scripture tells us all we need to know about television’s political coverage in Proverbs 26:11: “Like a dog that returns to his vomit is a fool that repeats his folly.” Not the prettiest passage in the Bible, but there it is in black and white, and it’s solid advice for anyone, like me, with an addiction to American politics.
As I have written here before, rough and tumble mudslinging is nothing new in American politics, but the recent turn of the last several weeks on the campaign trail tells me we are certainly entering into new and uncharted territory … and it is not so smooth terrain.
Now the remedy for this is probably cutting off television coverage of the political landscape cold turkey. Not as easy as it sounds for someone like me, who exhibits all the signs of a real addiction when it comes to politics.
I will go days without reading an article or watching any television news network — then, like somebody with a drinking problem who finds a half-full bottle of Tanqueray, I go on a bender. And, like someone with a self-control issue, I am filled with regret and remorse in the aftermath, left wondering why I did it and wishing I could get back some of the time I wasted on a lot of hot air.
So how is our new 2016 version of American presidential politics different from any other? Well, for starters, I do not recall Millard Fillmore, Zachary Taylor, Abraham Lincoln or Franklin Delano Roosevelt ever dropping an “F” bomb in public.
Presidential tempers are historically volatile and presidential language (see Harry S. Truman), could peel paint off a battleship. But never in public and never up on a podium during a campaign speech.
And although 19th-century nativism and outright anti-Catholic know-nothings were staples of the American political scene in their day, the level of mocking scorn recently sent the Vatican’s way via a viable presidential candidate was shocking.
Near as shocking was the fact that the angry comments toward the Holy Father cost the candidate zero political capital. This is quite a good distance from when George Washington, as Commander of the Continental Army, forbade his troops from “celebrating” Guy Fawkes Day because he saw it for what it was — an anti-Catholic insult.
Washington’s temper, especially during his war years, was legendary, but he always kept a calm, sober and composed demeanor in public. This did not change while he was president.
While it is an act of folly to pine for things to go back the way they were, because they never can, the decibel level of the anger in this presidential campaign does warrant a desire to at least return to a more publicly genteel time … even if they are faking it.
There is more anger in this presidential campaign than I can ever recall and that anomaly should make everyone uncomfortable. American politics at the national level has always focused on the positive. Whether it was a New Frontier, a New Deal, Morning in America or Tippecanoe and Tyler Too. Now we have candidates who sound more like the angry know-it-alls at the end of the bar — and people are cheering!
Giving up television coverage of the political season is not some kind of Lenten sacrifice on my part (though a room with a dormant television set that shows no hockey game or other sporting event would be the moral equivalent of a hair shirt for my oldest son). Sacrifice is about giving up something good, that’s why Cain got the ball rolling in the Fifth Commandment department — it all started with his cutting corners on a sacrifice.
We fast because food is good, a priest takes a vow of celibacy because marriage is good. Giving up watching American presidential politics is more in tune with giving up a three-packs-a-day cigarette habit.
Personally, I am not sure how long I can avoid the near occasion of televised political news. I may break into a cold sweat, get the shakes and fumble nervously at my remote control trying hard to “forget” the three-digit channel numbers for one of the 24-hour news networks. Maybe I’ll try to stave off the temptation by reading another biography of George Washington or Abraham Lincoln … too bad those guys are only available in book form.
Robert Brennan has been a professional writer for more than 30 years, including many years in the television industry.