14 November 2016

We must reject the politics of personal destruction

We are going down a very dangerous road lately, and it is vital that we put a stop to it.

As consumers of news, and as citizens of a country built on freedom, we must not tolerate the politics of personal destruction.

All it takes to destroy a person publicly, these days, is an unsubstantiated. unverifiable allegation with little or no evidence from many years ago. This should immediately set alarm bells ringing in everyone's head.

These kinds of "he said, she said" stories are nearly impossible to verify independently, yet many of us fly right past that little detail and instantly decide -- irrationally -- that it must be true, based solely on this incomplete and unconfirmed information, about other people's private lives, which are really none of our business in the first place. The flaws with this thinking, I hope, are obvious.

And somehow, these stories always revolve around the political enemies of Democrats. Imagine that.

A perfect example of this type of ruthless Chicago gutter politics involves -- surprise! -- President Barack Obama in 2004 when he ran for U.S. Senate.

His campaign leaked rumors to the Chicago Tribune and enticed them to dig into the private lives of not one but two opposing candidates, and to convince judges in a court of law to demand the public release of previously-sealed records of their personal lives, including in one case, a custody order for the couple's children.

The alleged intent of all this, we were helpfully informed, was to provide the public with important details to inform their votes for an elected office, even though these details are not really any of our business, since people are still entitled to have private relationships that judges and media busybodies and campaign managers are not privy to.

The actual intent was to destroy these people in a very public way, using information from their private lives, in a naked partisan political ploy, to defeat their candidacy. And it worked.

Nice job, Chicago Tribune. Nice job, citizen mob.

The first victim was Blair Hull, Obama's opponent in the Democratic Party primary. The other was well-regarded GOP candidate Jack Ryan. Somehow the Obama campaign convinced the media to destroy the reputations of two good men, including dragging their ex-wives and children through the mud, all for a supposed public interest in their private lives. See more of the ugly details here.

The story created a mob mentality, and soon the mob's frenzied outcry forced both Hull and Ryan to drop out. Obama won his precious Senate seat with these slimy tactics that helped his campaign but destroyed two families, plus all those who could have benefited from the election of either clearly superior candidate. Instead, we got Obama. Four years later, the whole nation got him. Good and hard.

And none of that was any of our damn business.

People's marriages and relationships with their children do not magically become an essential piece of public information at election time. People's private lives are exactly that, and we news consumers need to recognize that, and reject the politics of personal destruction. We have shown an increasingly disturbing tendency to become an out-of-control mob, in search of a head to stick on top of a pike at the edge of town, as a warning to the next band of invaders.

Outrageous, salacious stories from the past, with no other witnesses and no independent way to verify them, should immediately cause three obvious questions to enter one's mind: (1) can I verify if this is true or not, and (2) even if it is, does it matter in some essential way to my task of selecting a candidate to vote for, and (3) even if it does, am I a sucker who is being played right now, by cynical political operatives?

And yes, you probably are being played, if you automatically believe all of this stuff.

A story like Trump "groping" some random woman we've never heard of might be true, it might not. That's the whole problem:  how could we ever really know? Maybe some Democrat slimeball paid some woman to make such a claim, and then sat back and watched the media circus take over. You don't really know, do you? You *cannot* know. That's the point. That's how it works on you. That's why you need to be more suspicious.

The flip side, of source, is that some accusers might be truthful. So what are we to do about this? Participate in character assassination in all such cases because some of them might be true? That bar is way too low.

If you were the victim of such a vicious, slimy attempt to destroy you, and you knew it was bullshit, what would you say then? That's the clue as to what the right answer is here.

We're nominating for political office, not the sainthood. People still have private lives, and it is in all of of our interests to defend and protect that, because we really don't want to live in a world where it becomes common and accepted to personally destroy any potential candidate based on something from 10 or 20 years ago, in their private life, that we cannot possibly know the truth about, and that doesn't really impact us or our future in any way.