I made the mistake earlier this week of watching the first presidential debate. This debate affected me more emotionally than previous debates ever have, and no amount of very yummy Shiner Oktoberfest could drown my sorrows. Ever since the 2000 election (the first presidential election I was old enough to vote in), I’ve followed politics and media more closely than my happiness would prefer. My interest comes not simply because of political interest, because my liberal arts education actually accomplished what it was supposed to do.
When I was an undergraduate at the University of Houston, two classes had the greatest impact on my view of the world:
In Fall 2000, I took Fascism and German Cinema with Sandy Frieden. On the first day of class, she introduced herself as “a liberal, a feminist, a democrat, and a Jew.” This rather frank introduction gave her an air of authenticity that kept me hanging on every. single. word she said throughout the class. Plus, the sheer exposure to Nazi propaganda and reviewing it through a critical lens exposed me to the power of media that I hadn’t considered up until that point.
In Fall 2002, I took Propaganda and Mass Communication with Garth Jowett. He had us looking more critically at American media and how propaganda techniques are used in both political media and in entertainment to influence cultural perceptions. I remember the fondly when he came in lecturing about then-president George W. Bush. He pointed out that one needs to worry about a world leader who would actually say in a press interview, “After all, this is the guy who tried to kill my daddy.” I later heard that soundbite thanks to Michael Moore, and was even more horrified by the context of that line.
Anyway, in the middle of all this was, obviously, 9/11. It’s hard to go through such a transformative educational experience and not turn a critical eye toward how we, as a country, responded to 9/11 and the aftermath that ensued. This is a difficult perspective to have, and I question whether or not the skepticism that it’s given me is actually healthy…
So it’s even harder to watch political debates like the recent one between Hillary and Trump without massive discomfort. Regardless of one’s political leanings, the debate was a Propaganda Peep Show. All of Trump’s oratory techniques and Hillary’s composure during the entire event was all carefully orchestrated to convince members of either party, and I think it was successful. Liberals are more disgusted by Trump than ever, and I’m going to assume (my Republican friends don’t speak up much around me) that the opinion is mutual on the other side. What really got me, though, as a liberal, feminist, socialist, was that I found myself actually thinking “Yeah! I could vote for Hillary!” I was persuaded. That’s how propaganda works. It’s some external force persuading you to think a certain way, and without you even knowing that it’s happening. That’s what made Nazi propaganda both horrific and successful. It’s what makes me so frightened of Pro-American nationalist rhetoric. It also concerns me that we’re setting up a cultural vibe where the voices of rationalism and reason just can’t be louder than the voices of irrationalism.
As a mother, this election bothers me more than the previous elections. While Mitt Romney wasn’t my first choice for a president, I felt that his politics were far more balanced than several of his fellow Republicans. I was more frightened, since I lived in Texas at the time, about the local elections that were very clearly making an effort to systemically restrict women’s access to healthcare and equal rights for the state’s constituents clearly not in bed with Big Gas and Oil.
This election has me in a panic. It’s not just my daughter’s future on the line, but Just About Everything That Makes America Great is on the line. Our immigration policy, so poetically etched into the base of the Statue of Liberty, is being challenged. Healthcare and student loan reform–my two primary issues–will be thrown back onto the table. And nevermind all of the other stuff that politicians have to deal with. Queue shameless plug for my book for further insights into my thoughts about What Makes America Great. Perhaps it’s a little Mickey Mouse (okay, a LOT, since that’s, you know, kind of the thesis), but I do think that Disneyland perfectly exemplifies American Utopianism and has, in turn, shaped our expectations for cultural constructs.
This is a major turning point for our country. The decisions in November (President, Congress, and Senate) will be game changers, but of what sort depends on the outcome of the elections. Meanwhile, we have to listen closely to the rhetoric. Hillary’s recent campaign about “Is this the president we want for our daughters?” asks a valid question, and it’s the question that will ultimately determine how I vote in November.