One of the problems with US election rhetoric is that it never seems to stop. For two years out of four they are having presidential elections, and much of the other two are taken up with congressional elections. At least here in South Africa we only have a few months of it. The date of the election is announced, parties register their participation, and the issues are debated, and then we vote.

In the days before the Internet, American elections were somewhat remote. We’d read about them in the newspapers, usually on the inside pages until a day or two before the election, and then they would be on the front pages a couple of days before and a couple of days after, and that would be it. Thereafter we’d only read about the US president when the US had bombed some place or other, or was threatening to do so.

But the Internet opened up a whole new world of spite and vituperation, as one discovered how much Americans who hadn’t voted for their president hated him. It started with George H.W. Bush (before him the Internet was only a twinkle in Al Gore’s eye), and went on to Bill Clinton (or Klinton, as most of his detractors called him). Now it’s reached the point where every second post I read on Facebook is slagging off the unpreferred candidate(s) and their supporters. I’ve commented on that here, And it seems that even some South Africans are getting in on the act, engaging in fiercely partisan campaigning, as if they lived in the USA.

us2016And its ironic that usually there is very little difference between the candidates of the two major parties in the US elections, yet the closer their political positions, the more vicious becomes the rhetoric of their supporters. There so little difference that those small differences must be hyped and exaggerated to make them seem more significant than they are. Americans talk about “liberals” and “conservatives” and “left” and “right” but in the last four elections the candidates of the biggest parties have all been in the right-wing authoritarian quadrant of the political compass.

I’ve also begun to see people threatening to “unfriend” others on Facebook for expressing opinions they disagree with, which they often describe as “bigotry”. And here was I thinking that bigotry was refusing to listen to opinions you disagree with, or that offend you. Well, I did unfriend one person on Facebook, but for a slightly different reason. It wasn’t that his opinions offended me, but that my opinions offended him, and I valued his friendship too much, so unfriended him on Facebook so that we could stay friends in real life, and he would not be exposed to the opinions that offended him.

Quite a lot of my friends on Facebook are family. You can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family and I think it’s good to be exposed to opinions you disagree with. Even if we disagree, we are still family. Sometimes I don’t think anything will be gained by discussing the differences of opinion, so if someone says something I disagree with it, I pass over it and ignore it. If I think there is a possibility for rational discussion, I might comment, expressing a different point of view. But I don’t see the point in unfriending people over a mere difference of opinion. When I was much younger I did that a couple of times, and have often regretted it since. It was because I was being priggish and uncharitable.

imageThe thing that bothers me most about it, though, is that so much of the debate seems to be about personalities rather than policies. More than 95% of the arguments about the current US elections seem to be about the character of the candidates rather than their policies, and much of that seems to be based on innuendo and fake news sources.

And that’s why I like the graphic on the left.

Yes, they are sinners, but so are we all.

Yes, there are certain qualities that are desirable in someone who is going to lead a country, and so we speak of the difference between a statesman and a politician, and most political systems reward those who are best at political wheeling and dealing, and not those who give visionary leadership. But the petty vituperative spitefulness one sees every day on social media really is uncalled for.