I’ve noticed a curious phenomenon. Virtually no one I know is willing to start a conversation about the current election campaign.
As an academic with many academic acquaintances, I grew used to hearing people inject George Bush into every possible conversation, always in a derisive manner. But this year, I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of mentions my colleagues have made of either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. The same pattern holds with groups or individuals who I am certain will vote for Trump. No one wants to mention the campaign or the personalities.
This is a welcome relief, but why is it happening? I have several guesses.
- People are aware that this election is even more divisive than the past few elections, and they’re unwilling to start a fight.
- Many people who are expected by their friends to vote for Clinton will actually vote for Trump, and vice versa, and they don’t want to give themselves away.
- Everybody’s just sick of the damned thing.
These ideas may go far toward explaining the matter. But there’s at least one other possibility. Many people are discouraged about the presidency itself. They regard it cynically, as just one more object on a growing pile of political rubbish.
I’m not sure whether it’s good or bad that people feel that way. The imperial presidency lost almost all of its glamor with the abject failure of Obama (whom, by the way, hardly anybody ever mentions either). That’s certainly good, and maybe it’s permanent. I’m not sure, however, that complete political cynicism is a good long-run strategy for the pursuit and capture of individual freedom.