To put it mildly, this presidential election has been a nonstop migraine. But today, America has a doctor’s appointment to check if we have a brain tumor (Trump) or just severe light sensitivity (Clinton). Either way, we have a problem, but one’s a lot more manageable than the other. Of course, America is also dealing with the effects of a flesh-eating bacteria (climate change), but for some reason none of the doctors or patients are discussing it, and the one doctor who pointed it out (Sanders) was disbarred for making “impossible” diagnoses. As such, we’re slowly dying from the inside out.
So what’s next?
Regardless of whichever diagnosis Dr. Democracy provides us tonight, we’re facing a serious global threat that needs to be addressed head-on and immediately. But how are we going to do that, when even traditional news sources have defaulted to providing “information” that sells, not educates? (Note: For those interested in the evolving role of the media, I’d highly recommend Alain de Botton’s The News: A User’s Manual. Mindblowing.)
Change The News
First, we have to accept that major news sources are capitalist endeavors, and as such have a vested interest in pursuing topicality (over quality) in order to stay attractive to advertisers. The media has focused myopically on personality cults during this campaign cycle, lifting heavily from social media’s playbook and emphasizing style over substance. But by giving credence to every ridiculous statement or potential scandal, the media has failed its role as the gatekeepers of knowledge, and have instead turned into active bettors in a vicious dogfight. Sure, there have been policy pieces on Clinton’s extensive experience and Trump’s… ideas, but many “think pieces” in this cycle have limited shelf lives – meaning, come this evening, most of the stuff we’ve read over the last few months is obsolete. Do we feel better or more informed for reading them, or simply more absorbed into a political game for which the buzzer has just run out?
Meanwhile, coverage of the Dakota Access Pipeline protests, the rapid deforestation of Sumatra for the production of palm oil, and the unmanageable air quality in the world’s largest cities – i.e. pressing and ongoing problems – is relegated to niche publications with audiences who are already, for the most part, aware of these issues. One important way that we can flip the script on this practice is by speaking up about climate change, calling our representatives, marching on the streets, and using our voice to demand recognition of these eco-crises. If the media isn’t going to do it, it’s up to us. Eventually, when there’s enough public support and outcry, it’ll be impossible for major publications to push these stories to the back pages.
Change the Politicians
Second, we have to push the politicians who have campaigned on a platform of environmental protections (on a municipal level; what a disappointment the national stage has been on this issue) to stick to a timetable on delivering those promises. One of the most commonly cited criticisms of Obama is his inability to close Gitmo, despite heavily campaigning on this point. While he has been an advocate for the green movement and the transition to clean energy, those who supported him because of his expected efficacy with Gitmo were sorely disappointed and frustrated, and aren’t as satisfied with his other achievements. That being said, neither of the current presidential candidates have said anything exciting regarding their stances on environmental protections, with Clinton refusing to comment on the #NoDAPL movement but privately emailing that protesters should “get a life” and Trump Tweeting that “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.” …Okay.
So it’s up to Senators, Representatives, the Attorney General, the Secretaries, and local politicians to take up the fight and stick with it. But, of course, it’s not going to be easy. After watching Before the Flood, I was shocked to learn that a third of Congress is composed of climate deniers. 182 delusional Congresspeople – 144 in the House and 38 in the Senate – hold legislative power over critical, long-lasting actions that will fundamentally affect how our country responds to what is essentially an impending apocalypse. Therefore, even though both chambers only require a majority vote to pass laws, it’s important to get the remaining 66% voting in unison – both as a message to the remainder that the only myth is climate denial, and as a coalition that will push through filibusters and horsetrading to enact the type of regulation and change we need. In order to mobilize this support, we as citizens must be pressuring our representatives to prioritize that fight. If not, we can’t be surprised when a lack of unified vision results in weak or incomplete environmental laws.
Change the Political Process
Third, we have to rethink the campaign cycle itself. As a conservative estimate, presidential candidates spend about 500 days on the campaign trail, preparing for 1460 days in term. Congresspeople and local politicians spend closer to 4 – 6 months, a full-time operation that distracts from their other responsibilities. There’s a lot that has been said about this, so I won’t go into detail, but it’s irrefutable that our political system requires a fundamental change. Ironically, it’s the rise of new wave white supremacy in the form of Donald Trump and the revolutionary “socialist” tendencies of Bernie Sanders that has inspired the majority to embrace that view. So how do we refocus our attention on the issues, and not the candidates?
We can have stricter guidelines on who can become president. For example, climate deniers should not be allowed to run for office. Rapists and molesters should not be allowed to run for office. Advocates of violence, terror, and bigotry should not be allowed to run for office. (How is this not a requirement already?) We can also eliminate the primary system, which was originally created to prevent the “tyranny of the masses.” Considering that the primary process has not succeeded in protecting minority voices, and in the elimination of Sanders has actively repressed alternative viewpoints, I don’t see the primary as a net positive, though I’d be curious to learn your thoughts in the comments section below.
Change the Medium
Fourth, we have to shorten the election cycle to reduce election-related waste as well. The length of current presidential campaigns makes them uniquely cultural events, with voters proudly displaying bumper stickers, signs, and banners of their favorite candidate. There’s just so much stuff to print on, and marketers are eager to get whatever they can into the hands of whoever will promote it as often as possible. But from a strictly intellectual perspective, shouldn’t the election be more focused on what those candidates will do, and less so on their brand? Of course, that’s not how most of the country thinks. Today’s decision isn’t merely a vote for a candidate – it’s an expression of one’s identity, hopes, and dreams for the country. Therefore, outward signifiers, particularly if they’re free and/or culturally relevant, are highly utilized to communicate these larger ideas. If we had a shorter election cycle, those buttons, stickers, etc. would still be in use, but I predict in smaller quantities as we would be deemphasizing the election itself.
To conclude, I’ll quickly touch upon the issue of mailers and event-related waste, which originally inspired me to write this post. While print media is quickly becoming obsolete, older voters still rely on physical collateral to inform them of local initiatives and politicians. As a result, single-use marketing assets are produced by the thousands, then oftentimes end up unread in trash bins or floors. Now compound that with all of the confetti, balloons, table clothes, and related event materials that each campaign stop involves, as well as the inundation of fliers, posters, and paraphernalia about the candidates, propositions, and measures that each voter receives. I alone received around 40 cardstock fliers (that I don’t plan to read), and combining my two American roommates plus mail sent erroneously to past residents, I estimate our household has received about 200 mailers. None of the marketing spend has impacted my vote, and now I bear the guilt of throwing them out. Campaign operations need to be more strategic with their outreach, ensuring at the very least that they don’t send duplicates to the same address, and should find tech solutions to transition from paper to digital for voters who are confirmed social media users.
I’m nervous for tonight’s results, but am excited to know the outcome so we can best prepare for what comes next. If this election has shown us anything, it’s that a revolution is brewing, and neither of these candidates can stop it – now it’s up to us to make sure that environmentalism comes out on top when the dust settles.