Rethinking Our Expectations

I have been wondering why I haven’t written anything since the presidential election. Each time I have sat down to write, I have felt compelled to turn away – actually, the feeling is closer to being repulsed. The campaign left me feeling angry and disgusted. The candidates actively destroyed each other over the course of many months, and then had the audacity to call for unity the day after the election. How could they seriously utter such words? Did they really mean them? If so, how would they characterize what they had been doing up till then – simply playing a game at the expense of the American people? What about all the accusations, name-calling and questioning of each other’s personal motivations?

Negative campaigning is one thing; but what we witnessed was a total disregard for people’s hopes and aspirations. The call for unity was disingenuous; it was insulting to people’s intelligence. Are we expected to buy this silliness?

Still, many people have told me simply to accept this outrageous behavior as politics as usual. Our expectations of politics – and ourselves, at times – are so low that we are willing to shrug our shoulders in despair.

But I also know from The Harwood Institute’s own political conduct work that people truly do hold aspirations for how politics and public life is to be conducted. And their sense of faith in the process is driven, in large part, by this conduct.

During the campaign, and especially the day after, I wanted to grab these two office seekers and shake them by the shoulders, and ask: “What do you think you just did during this election? What gave you the right to conduct your campaign in the way that you did?”

I would like to hear their answers – unscripted.