Get ready for a very ugly presidential campaign, with Wisconsin in the center of the mud wrestling. It will be hard on the soul and the spirit.
That came eminently clear over the Memorial Day weekend when President Trump erupted with a frenzy of insults against his perceived enemies. His list of enemies seems to have no bounds.
The holiday is a special time when citizens of all stripes take a time-out to revere and honor our veterans. It is a day of unity, of common gratitude. It is a day to say to veterans, past, present and future, deceased or living, “Thank you for your service.”
The solemnity of the moment came at a time when most Americans really are pulling together to defeat a common killer. The last thing we needed on Memorial Day was a new round of rancor and diatribe, whatever the political differences.
But there it was: a demeaning ridicule of the appearance of U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, once an ardent supporter of the president.
How does someone handle the president’s unending trash talk? One’s first instinct is to let the attacks pass. They will be forgotten over time. But they don’t stop; President Trump’s Tweets are relentless. They are blurted out day and night, 7X24.
The press managers for his opponents have come to the conclusion that they can’t ignore the personal slams. Pelosi cited Trump’s “morbid obesity.” Sessions, who is running for the U.S. senate in an Alabama primary and gains nothing by taking on Trump, pushed back hard on the derision aimed at him but avoided an exchange of insults. Joe Biden labeled Trump “an absolute fool” for not a wearing mask when appropriate.
The personal invective is just getting started. There are still five months to go before the general election for president. And you have to stretch your imagination and gutter-level vocabulary to come up with more inflammatory language than what has already been uttered. How do you top what’s already been thrown out there?
But, instead of dealing with immense issues at hand, the demeaning rhetoric will escalate. The candidates and their surrogates will be criss-crossing Wisconsin because it is the ultimate swing state and its ten electoral votes will surely matter in the end for who sits in the Oval Office for the next four years. They will not make the same mistake that Hilary Clinton made four years ago when she skipped the state.
Some people like Reality TV and they same people probably enjoy the political mud slinging. But most of us don’t. We think name-calling attacks from our supposedly mature leaders tear at the fabric of our democracy. We are tired of the divisiveness, especially on unifying holidays like Memorial Day.
If Bidden picks an articulate vice president who is long on government management and political solutions, someone like Gov. Gina Raimondo of Rhode Island, that might force a more substantive campaign. Biden is 77 and Trump 74, so the VP choices are most important.
No one knows if Trump will go with Vice President Pence again; he is capable of firing anyone at any time for no major reason. But voters will be watching what the VP candidates have to say and hopeful they restrain themselves from trash talk. Pence is not given to rough language.
Is there anything that ordinary citizens can do to bring some level of civility to the election campaign as it emerges from the pall of quarantining? There is probably no way to turn off the stream of derogatory Tweets from the Oval Office. Somehow, some strange way, the most powerful man in the world sees himself as a victim. He thinks he needs to even the score by lashing out.
What we – voters, bloggers, journalists and opposing politicians — can do is ignore his taunts. Responding to his rants lowers us all as Americans.