Election 2020: E Pluribus Pugilism

IAbout 12 months ago, my liberal ‘bro and I had the following conversation about our choice for Democratic candidate for President:

LB (liberal ‘bro): Who’s your favorite?

Me: Bernie

LB: Yeah, I like ‘em too. But do you think he will win?

Me: What do you mean?

LB: I mean, do you think he can beat Trump?

Me: Yes, definitely. Bernie could have beaten Trump in 2016.

LB: No, I mean do you think Bernie will beat Trump in the debates?

Me: Am I missing something here?

LB: I mean, don’t you think Biden is the one to beat Trump in the debates?

Me: Oh, so you like Biden. Why didn’t you say so?

LB: No, what I mean is, Biden has “character.” He is the only one who can really take on Trump. Really kill him in the debate. I can hardly wait to see that. Bernie is a nice guy, but we need somebody like Biden who will kill Trump in the debates. I can’t wait to see that.

Curious, I have monitored my liberal bro’s candidate trajectory over the past year. He is delighted Biden won the party nomination: “See? He (Biden) is the only one who can beat Trump.” And my liberal bro is equally delighted Biden picked Sen. Kamela Harris as his running mate: “She’s tough. I can’t wait to see what she does to Pence. Kamela against Pence? She’ll kill him. I can’t wait to see that.”

From my corner of the 2020 political discourse/dispensary, I am picking up a political/cultural narrative emanating from god knows where: we don’t like “politics” all that much, but we sure like a fight, fighters, blood, whistles…

E Pluribis Pugilism.

Look at the language streamed at us daily across the cable spectrum — “red meat,” “dog whistle,” “she’s a fighter.”

Or Sen. Mitch McConnell’s favorite caveat to his colleagues, “keep your powder dry.”

What’s going on here? Sounds like a cross between a Civil War Reenactment and Wild World of Wrestling.

No, this is America thirty odd days out to the Presidential Election and days before the first debate — if there is one.

We see political candidates as boxers entering the ring rather than as message carriers, visionaries and policy champions. We use code words like “character” and “fire in the belly” to signal a fight contender, not the man, or woman who will be responsible for governing and affecting our collective future. The man or woman with a web site replete with governing policies and missions, not platitudes and bromides.

Oh, you say, how boring is that. To echo a French. sociologist speaking two centuries ago, “Society deserves the criminals it gets.” Yes, and America has a con man and a truant occupying the White House ballyhooing the “red blooded” end of the political spectrum.

E Pluribus Pugilism

Political savant and unpopular Chicago Mayor, Rahm Emanuel once proposed that Democrats need to “fall in love” with their Presidential candidate; Republicans don’t care about their Presidential candidate — only their candidate’s conviction in delivering “on issues,” whether its packing the courts with conservative judges or “doubling down” on abusive immigration policy.

Emanuel touched on the flip side of Pugilism:

E Pluribus Amorem

When we are not pummeling our opponent, we are compelled to love our candidate or at least to fall in love with ‘them.’ Popularity with the voter polls trumps policy and issue polls.

We liked to have a beer with President George Bush and got Iraq instead.

F. Scott Fitzgerald was reported to have said, “There are no second acts in (American) politics.” He was speaking to romance and her side-kick charisma, not policy “wonks.”

Consider Trump’s make believe world of blood and guts: as much as Sen. Mitt Romney tries to apply lipstick to a pig, the Republicans are ushering in the new autocracy called America.

Well, we can take a page from our European neighbors who propose that they best way to challenge an autocrat is to campaign on policy, not personality or “character.” Not that our European neighbors are doing that well in the autocracy category, but they look pretty good right now.

This is the “less traveled road,” because to speak to policy demands an attention span beyond the next cable news “break,” and a good dose of Civics.

Wait… aren’t we doing away with Civics in our schools?

September 25–26, 2020



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Rodney Clough

Rodney Clough

Refuses to nap. Septuagenarian. Cliche’ raker. Writes weekly.