The events of the past year have made it overwhelmingly clear that America’s process for choosing a president as it has evolved is now seriously flawed and stands in need of reform. Responsible leaders of both parties have a duty to examine the system and adopt the changes needed.
Among the issues to consider are the role of caucuses and primary elections in their present form in choosing candidates, the corrupting influence that fundraising has on the process, and the format of primary and presidential debates.
Add the media to the list of things that need examining. The people responsible for reporting and commenting on the electoral process have serious soul-searching of their own to do.
Technology-driven changes that have revolutionized the news business in recent years need evaluating in light of the common good. High up among matters of legitimate concern is the 24/7 news cycle with its insane emphasis on competition and speed. (I assume, by the way, that blogs and tweets lie largely beyond reach and correction, even though electing a president is here often the matter for personal ranting rather than a sober expression of informed opinion.)
Freedom of expression is a cherished value in the American system, and that implies accepting a fair amount of human imperfection in talk about politics. But freedom must be used responsibly lest it turn destructive. Did some media reach that point during the recent campaign? If so, what can be done to discourage a recurrence? These aren’t questions to be deflected by rote citation of the First Amendment.
For our next president, the first test will be whether he will bring divided Americans together or, God forbid, drive them even farther apart with polarizing rhetoric. One awaits the answer with understandable apprehension.
Beyond that, the issues agenda is crowded: restoring peace and stability in an increasingly divided and dangerous world, healing racial and class conflicts at home, addressing the crisis of marriage and family breakdown, finding tolerable new rules of engagement for the conduct of the culture war. In approaching these challenges, there is guidance in Lincoln’s famous words: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right.”
Lincoln said that in his Second Inaugural Address. But perhaps we should also recall something else that he said there — that the Civil War might have been divine punishment for the national sin of slavery. Without embracing the Calvinist theology of that, it’s worth considering what national sins the recent campaign could have been punishment for.
The list surely would include abortion, racism, and the legalization of same-sex marriage. But then add policy failures in the Middle East, stretching back at least to the Iraq war and continuing up to the debacle in Syria, that have helped produce many thousands of deaths, contributed to the rise of violent Islamic extremism, touched off a destabilizing flood of refugees and — by no means least — been instrumental in raising a new crop of Christian martyrs while very nearly eradicating Christianity from a region where it has been present for two millennia.
Prayers and good luck, Mister President.
Russell Shaw, a contributing editor to Our Sunday Visitor, writes from Washington, D.C.