Today’s Opinion Page is a gift of sorts. Consider it a little cleansing breath before the halitosis that now appears certain to come this summer. With the fallout from Tuesday, it may be the last chance for such a respite for some time, so it seems prudent to take the opportunity while we can.
I haven’t done the legwork to confirm it, but I suspect it has been months, possibly going all the way back to the fall of 2015, since a certain irascible candidate for president of the United States has not been featured in some way on this page. For today, I decided enough is enough. Today the Daily Herald Opinion page is a You Know Who-Free Zone.
Making that happen wasn’t easy, and it’s the difficulty of the task that I want to talk about. For, I think it’s evidence of a serious failing in political reporting and commentary, especially in broadcast news but to some degree in every medium. In the beginning, covering this unconventional candidate stimulated all our nerve endings. He said laughably outrageous things and responded to criticism of them with more outrageous things. He had the reputation and taste of a Kardashian sister and almost as much knowledge of the political and social issues facing the country. Ridiculing him was easy and seemed harmless, and, joy of joys in the modern age, it produced hits online and ratings on television.
Then, of course, something happened. People began to vote for him.
In the course of a few months, he was dominating not only the news but the polls and the ballot boxes as well. Suddenly, it seemed there was space in print, broadcast or online for little other than jokes about his ridiculous claims, condemnations of the people with whom they resonate and speculations about how or whether he could be stopped. Among a field that began with 17 individuals — 17! diverse in gender, age and ethnicity, many of them thoughtful, engaging and promising — it seemed no other candidate could get a word or a picture or a policy statement in edgewise.
Debates centered on him, and news stories and commentaries following debates centered more on how well he did than on anything any of the candidates said. Substantive stories and commentary about those other individuals were in short to nonexistent supply. The Daily Herald’s national editors made special efforts to troll our wire services for stories about candidates other than him with notable success, but it has not been easy.
Opinion writers, I’m sad to acknowledge, have been especially at fault, finding the appeal of the easy target constitutionally irresistible and thus leaving the ideas and activities of the other candidates virtually unexamined.
Of course, as the front-runner increasingly proved to have tapped into a vein of serious discontent among voters, his words and ideas deserved to be evaluated, just like everyone else’s. But for many commentators, the discontent part of the equation was all but ignored, and it almost seemed that there was no “everyone else.” There was very little serious analysis — critical or otherwise — of John Kasich’s background in Ohio. Very little study of Ted Cruz’ economic prescription for the nation. Almost nothing about Jeb Bush beyond the horse-race head scratching over why the once-presumed heir apparent couldn’t excite a crowd. Ditto on down the 16-person line.
The Daily Herald has access to nearly a dozen political columnists. Many are the days when it is difficult if not impossible to find a commentary that is not about You Know Who. It certainly wasn’t easy today, either, and considering the new inevitability, it doesn’t feel entirely responsible. But, hey, one has to make a stand sometime — and, yes, I acknowledge that technically, even the column you are reading now is much like Tolstoy’s white bear — sitting in a dark room committed to not thinking about a certain subject.
I console myself with the notion that my theme really isn’t so much about him as about us — and not just those of us making news decisions but also and especially those of us who are supposed to be offering commentary on the whole range of political options and ideas produced in an election year. We have dwelt too much on the easy topics, the clown, the entertainer, the outrage, the disbelief.
The reliable clicks.
We’ve provided far too little reflection about the more difficult alternatives, and in so doing, we’ve squandered the alternatives. So, enjoy today’s Opinion page without him. It looks to be a gift that for at least the next several months and perhaps much longer, will not often be repeated.
Jim Slusher, [email protected], is an assistant managing editor at the Daily Herald. Follow him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/jim.slusher1 and on Twitter at @JimSlusher.