COLUMN: ANN MACARI HEALEY

‘Reality TV’ candidacy a hard lesson in reality

Ann Healey
Posted 4/3/16

Ann Macari Healey’s award-winning column about people, places and issues of everyday life appears every other week. She can be reached at ahealey@coloradocommunitymedia.com or 303-566-4109.

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COLUMN: ANN MACARI HEALEY

‘Reality TV’ candidacy a hard lesson in reality

Posted

Mark Kroll, 22, is alarmed.

Katie Pickrell, 17, is disappointed.

Sianna Elmanouzi, 22, is quite baffled.

The reason for their reactions? The 2016 Republican presidential campaign, defined by uncultured, crass, hateful vocabulary and behavior typically more reflective of the worst in reality TV than a contest for the leader of our country.

Much of the blame, these young people say, rests with Donald Trump, the billionaire real-estate mogul who has used his trademark offensive — and bigoted — bluntness to somehow rally enough supporters to move him to the front of the Republican pack.

“I would like to think no one believes those things,” says Elmanouzi, a fiscal conservative and social justice liberal who registered as a Republican when she voted in her first presidential election four years ago. “But I’ve been overwhelmed by how much support he’s received. So it makes me second-guess what kind of society we live in.”

Me, too.

Regardless of where we fall on the political spectrum, Trump’s mean, simple-minded, often racist and sexist rhetoric shouldn’t be celebrated or replicated.

And yet it has been.

His campaign rallies draw overflow crowds. A recent NBC News/Survey Monkey weekly election tracking poll shows Trump has the support of 48 percent of registered Republicans and Republican-leaners. His abrasive style has lowered the bar of what’s acceptable to debate among candidates — from penises to wives — and degenerated the conversation into playground-like name-calling and gloss-overs.

“Respect,” Pickrell says, “is missing ...”

Pickrell, who turns 18 in time to vote in November, has been canvassing for Democrat Bernie Sanders. She likes his focus on the environment and education, among other issues.

Although energized by contributing to the political process, she’s also been shocked by what Trump’s influence has uncovered.

“He’s kind of solidified (people) can be prejudiced or bigoted toward other people,” she says. “We’re taught you can’t say things based on skin color or where people come from, but he has done just that ... It’s almost like they were waiting for Donald Trump to come around and to say it’s OK to think things like that.”

Mark Kroll, who graduates in May with a sociology degree from Coe College in Iowa, echoes Pickrell’s belief.

People “have these views, have this rhetoric in their everyday vocabulary with their friends, family …” he says. “Now they have someone who’s talking like them — that’s kind of the scary thing about it.”

Kim Gorgens, a clinical associate professor of psychology at University of Denver, also concurs.

Research shows Trump “is a mouthpiece for a large percentage of the populace who hold these beliefs — much like pushing the Like button on a reply for Facebook or thumbs-up on Reddit for ugly sentiments,” Gorgens says.

The rise in bullying rhetoric — of the acceptance of “cruelty and exclusion” — to such national prominence doesn’t necessarily surprise Gorgens.

Psychologists and sociologists have been sounding the alarm for at least a decade, she says: A society increasingly separated from one another by the use of technology that promotes virtual rather than personal relationships is leading to the mainstreaming of inappropriate online behaviors, such as cyberbullying and Internet trolling.

“As there’s been more and more access to, and exposure to, more opportunities to broadcast cruelty - cruelty has increased — and you’ve seen a gradual corrosion of social norms to include more pro-aggression, pro-violence sentiments,” Gorgens says.

In simpler terms: “As the space between us gets reduced, instead of more opportunities for building interpersonal networks, we’ve used that space to broadcast really ugly sides of ourselves.”

But, Gorgens says, the good news is research also shows we are most influenced by the people who are closest to us — family, friends, mentors — who, hopefully, don’t espouse the kind of philosophy that tears us apart.

As it usually does in our country, it comes down to We the People.

And, so far, we have generally allowed this state of affairs to continue without forceful outcry. We thought it wouldn’t get this far. We thought, initially, it was kind of funny. We thought Trump didn’t stand a chance. Even much of the media, I’m embarrassed to admit, has been swept away on the Trump hyperbole, bypassing legitimate coverage of other candidates and asking questions that perpetuate a conversation of little substance.

Instead, we got taught a lesson in the reality of what happens when you don’t stand up to the bully from the very start.

So let’s listen to the young people coming behind us, even though we are supposed to be older and wiser.

This year’s excursion into the presidential campaign for Pickrell, a high school senior so passionate about politics she wants to be either a political journalist or a politician, has shown her not all is as it seems.

She’s discovered some longtime friends have layers she didn’t know: They talk about supporting Trump, then make jokes about African-Americans, Hispanics, Muslims, gays.

“It’s actually forced me to break down some of my relationships with people because they’re so hateful towards those who don’t support the kind of country Trump is after,” Pickrell says. “We should be looking for a leader who will bring the nation together and build people up, not tear people down and reverse the progress that we’ve been making.”

The possibility of a Trump presidency disillusions Kroll, who believes much of his support comes from a populace previously uninterested in politics and uneducated about issues.

But, he wonders, how do you “try to teach your kid, `Don’t speak like this’ when it’s all over TV and (Trump) has a legitimate shot at becoming president? ... Reality TV has so much influence on young people. It’s eye-opening that there’s somebody who belongs on reality TV and is now in a more serious context.”

They all agree, as Elmanouzi says, that young people don’t want an “aggressively demeaning” leader.

Or one who is hateful.

Or divisive.

Or intolerant.

They want a leader who respects others, who sees the broader good, who can work with all segments of society, who can meet in the middle.

“I think young people are more willing to compromise, more willing to work together,” says Elmanouzi, who graduates from University of Colorado-Boulder in May with a degree in political science and business and a certificate in peace and conflict studies. “We’re kind of done with not being able to have conversations.”

The political rhetoric of this campaign year has all but obliterated any suggestion of dialogue, much less a respectful approach to leadership.

“It’s definitely a lesson learned,” Elmanouzi says. “The younger generation always looks to the mistakes of the generation before us.”

Make no mistake: There’s a lesson here for all of us to learn.

Ann Macari Healey’s award-winning column about people, places and issues of everyday life appears every other week. She can be reached at ahealey@coloradocommunitymedia.com or 303-566-4109.

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