Anyone who has worked at a news organization knows that things tend to go off the rails in the final weeks of an election season. Candidates get flustered and emotional; readers – even ones who aren’t actively involved in a campaign – get testy and thin-skinned.
We in the newsroom resign ourselves to an increasingly shrill discourse, to accusations (from both sides) that we’re obviously biased, and a general cloud of angst and unpleasantness.
The one consolation is that the election season will, one day, end. It reaches a crescendo, usually the day before the big day, then there is a burst of happy excitement on Election Day itself, and suddenly the next day all the recent unpleasantness is forgotten. Old grievances disappear, or heal over quickly, and everyone gets back to normal life, at least until the next election cycle.
This past election season was worse than normal. The local and state races weren’t particularly controversial on their own, but the general tension and ill-humor of the national race filtered down, so our local candidates, staff, and readers were in an especially sour mood.
In the final weeks of October, I finally concluded that I didn’t much care who won anymore, just so long as it was over. I was looking forward to Nov. 9 with unusual eagerness.
Somehow, though, Nov. 9 never came. The pressure cooker that is the election season never stopped – in fact, in some ways the steam has continued to build.
The sourness and rancor of the national discourse is obvious in our pages – we’ve had some excellent letters to the editor on both sides, but we’ve also had a fair bit of anger and bitterness. But the sour mood has even infected our local issues, with an unusual level of name calling and acrimony in letters and social media comments (I have refused to run several letters on this basis in the last couple of months, which is unusual).
The notion of a “permanent campaign” was pioneered by President Jimmy Carter, whose staff took the attitude that the reelection effort began on the first day in the White House. The strategy didn’t work out so well for Jimmy, as it turns out, but each president since has refined and amplified it, to the point where our current president held an actual campaign-organized rally just a month into his term, the earliest official reelection campaign event ever.
I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise, therefore, that at a certain point a “permanent campaign” for the presidency would trickle down to the rest of us to become a “permanent election season” for everyone.
And maybe it was a naïve hope that everything would return to normal after Election Day of last year anyway. Even had the election gone the other way, we still would have been in the midst of much partisan rancor (with the “Sore loser” charges going the opposite direction) and the anxiety of Donald Trump’s unpredictability would have been replaced by the anxiety of the famous Clinton family penchant for self-defeating drama and scandal.
But I really hope that election season doesn’t become a permanent state of being in the U.S., that the 2016 election will someday end.
I don’t know about you, but I can hardly wait for Nov. 9.