A certain inevitability underlines the current presidential campaign. I don't mean, for example, that it was inevitable President Trump and some of those around him would be hit by the virus about which he has been so dismissive and negligent -- though there are certainly those who believed Trump's actions would inevitably lead to disaster.
The virus' lethal impact, heightened by the relentless spreading of falsehoods and misinformation, is the inevitable result of an increasingly hardened political climate, aided by social media and talk radio.
We have been heading in this direction for decades. At the core of this trend is the disparagement of government, accompanied by a decline in accountability and diminished transparency. Government has served as a whipping boy, an easy target for blame.
We are also dealing with a parallel cultural conflict, which some pseudo-patriots who claim to represent fundamental values want to label as a culture war.
What we have now is a reflection of the polarization that characterizes the demise of the political parties. Those parties have largely lost their bearings and their vigor and are too often wandering in the political wilderness. Regrettably, this applies to more than a few religious and interest groups and institutions.
Since Donald Trump took office as president, the U.S. global image has been seriously damaged. A new 13-nation Pew Research Center survey illustrates America's reputation is continuing to decline among many allies and partners. In several countries, those with a favorable view of the U.S. is as low as it has been at any point since the center began polling two decades ago.
The chaotic polarization that we are showing the world has left our political parties in shambles. And, speaking of political parties, there is the pettiness over what they are called. We have the "Democratic Party" and then there are those on the Republican side who insist on calling it the "Democrat Party." Adherents of either party or other parties are, of course, free to call themselves whatever they like. However, it is officially the Democratic Party.
The extremism that threatens to engulf us does not have to be inevitable. As some among us consistently point out, relatively simple steps can have significant impact in reducing the numbers of coronavirus cases and deaths.
In today's media world, including not only social and traditional media but the big audiences of talk radio, it is inevitable that "the media" will draw unrelenting criticism (as demonstrated last week by Rush Limbaugh).
In Trump's version of the Republican Party, he can say whatever suits his perceived political need (or gratification) for the moment -- hiding behind the flag when that move is needed and central to his efforts to consolidate and maintain power -- to the point that some of his party colleagues are silenced while being fed a red-meat diet. Inevitably what we have now reflects the decline of the political parties. Maybe that doesn't have to be inevitable, but if the parties are to play a responsible role, we need to put an end to blind partisanship and destructive polarization.
Trump, in many respects, stands as a unique figure in U.S. politics, certainly in the modern age. Analysts and historians have looked for someone to whom Trump might be compared. One who doesn't get as much notice in history as he should is former Alabama Gov. George C. Wallace. As a journalist, I followed some of Wallace's campaigning in the late 1960s. Wallace raised the "law and order" rallying cry. He said the nation was in trouble because public officials "kowtowed" to anarchists in the streets.
Does any of this sound familiar? Of course, it does. Wallace is most remembered for his stand on racial issues and opposition to civil rights.
It shouldn't be forgotten that Wallace made a strong showing as a presidential candidate in the 1968 elections – winning a plurality in Arkansas in his "Stand Up for America" campaign. In Arkansas he finished ahead of Republican Richard Nixon and Democrat Hubert Humphrey. Nixon won a plurality in national totals and the Electoral College.
Yes, there are those on both sides of the political divide who value and understand the importance of decorum, Trump certainly not among them.
Last week, authorities in Michigan announced that they had foiled a plot by a group with right-wing connections to overthrow the state government and kidnap Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
That was in addition to the labeling by Trump of Sen. Kamala Harris, Joe Biden's running mate in the Nov. 3 election, as a communist and monster.
We need to be more vigilant in what we allow to become inevitable.
Hoyt Purvis is an emeritus professor of journalism and international relations at the University of Arkansas. Email him at [email protected]