A Campaign for No One

A Campaign for No One.

A campaign devoid of conviction, when conviction is so badly needed.

Much of our time and energy has been devoted to two unpopular people. In the last month, however, it has become increasingly clear that the worst part of 2016 is that even these polarizing and compromised figures can fade into the haze of fear and fright.

Elections, as always, should highlight people: actual human beings that make mistakes, take risks, have needs, and love, lie to, and coexist with one another. It's simple - and it's also unfortunate to see it hijacked.

This election is not about anyone. It can't be. It has devolved into a scenario in which we deal with caricatures, not people. You can't hate a caricature - they're merely used for the projection of beliefs that have a very tenuous basis in reality. Donald Trump purposely caricatures himself. He always has. It's the method by which he climbed to the very top of this race. Hillary Clinton caricatures herself reflexively; it has become her public nature.

The concept of the individual voter - the one whose hand we want to shake, whose mind we want to change, whose vote we need - has all but evaporated in this cycle. A campaign that followed the election and reelection of the nation's first black president was bound, in some way, to take the spirit of the opposition and give it its moment to set fire to the political process. The personal crusade to take this country back - that animating spirit and fire - reveals 2016's motive: to de-individualize. We spend much more of our time talking about large, ambiguous, amorphous groups than we do about distinct, specific communities. That is not merely problematic; it is wholly dangerous.

The consequences of a Campaign for No One have been visceral: this yearlong span of coverage has created an environment saturated with conflict, accusation, innuendo, and outright bigotry. The nostalgia of the American presidential campaign has been compromised, and any calls to return to basic decency in campaigning are simplistic. They do not encapsulate the importance of acknowledging that we don't care about people as much as we should.

The irony of this campaign is in its anger. We believe that our anger is rightfully directed toward specific groups of people: Muslims, who refuse to assist in identifying radical jihadists; immigrants, who are rabidly consuming our employment opportunities and engaging in violent acts along the way; and the politically correct elite, who are unable to say anything of substance, let alone truth. In reality, those groups are far more loosely assembled than we may realize. It is the worst use of a blanket statement. So much time, energy, and anger are directed at something we think is concrete when, in actuality, we are shouting into the dark. We are not taking the intellectual time to identify the real source of our disdain.

We are watching as ambiguity takes hold. Our effort to seek individual characteristics over group traits is minimal, at best. Indeed, this has been the most sinister work of the Campaign for No One: by accepting (and even embracing) laziness of thought, we have allowed the power of herd mentality to overtake the statistical progress this country has actually made. It doesn't matter which study, news outlet, fact-checker, or university tells us that we're making progress - studies are doctored, news outlets are corrupted, fact-checkers don't check facts, and universities foster political correctness. This is what they tell us.

Scores of Americans have become disillusioned, cynical, and angry thanks to rhetoric that has reached new heights of malaise. What's new and unsettling about this campaign is the fact that it has become increasingly difficult to point to the origin of the anger. It isn't merely Donald Trump; that's far too simple. It isn't merely Hillary Clinton, either. The anger is unique, and difficult to quantify.

Whom is this about? You? Whom exactly do we find ourselves so angry at? A candidate? Their supporters? The state of the economy?

What makes us the angriest?

It has become too easy for us to be angry at the world, and not at anything in particular. It has become too easy for us to blame people who belong to groups that, in actuality, don't exist in the way we think they do. We've made this too easy. We're striking one another in the dark. People are feeling pain and don't have a sense of direction to find answers.

That's what I've noticed more than anything, especially in this past month. This has quickly become a referendum not merely on two unpopular people, but on whether or not we can remain decent. The fact that we don't truly know who we're arguing with frightens me. Many may believe they know, but they often don't. When pressed, they can't articulate the source of their anger much better than the rest of us can.

I increasingly find myself in this category. I am angry, and don't know whom, or what, I'm angry with. I'd like to say I'm angry with Donald Trump, but it is beyond that. I, too, have been swept up by this Campaign for No One. The anger has transcended that of traditional election years. It has become something wholly different, and something much more disconcerting. I'm not convinced that it will merely dissipate when this is all over. In fact, when it's over, there may be even more anger than before.

I can deal with politics. I can put up with deceit, dirty tricks, and spin. What frightens me the most is blindness - and I am afraid we are going blind.