Municipal Government

The 2016 Presidential Election –“Panem et Circenses” for America

July 25, 2016 

Roman Satirist, Juvenal


By Bill Hohlfeld

Valley Cottage, NY “… Already long ago, from when we sold our vote to no man, the People have abdicated our duties; for the People who once upon a time handed out military command, high civil office, legions — everything, now restrains itself and anxiously hopes for just two
things: bread and circuses.” Juvenal (100 AD)

Wherever one goes today, be it the checkout line at the local grocery store, the waiting room of the dentist, or even the church parking lot, one
hears snippets of conversations about this year’s election cycle. They range anywhere from “She should be in jail for what she did,” to “I can’t
believe this guy might actually become president.” Regardless of wherever the speakers lie on the political spectrum, for the most part, they have one thing in common. With the exception of the die- hard Dems or the equally passionate “Never Hillary” camp, for most of us, this
election cycle has been riddled with dismay and disgust.

We search in vain for an answer to the questions: “How did this happen to us?” “How did we get here?” “Is this really the best that America has to offer?” Juvenal, in his satire, points to the same problem in his contemporary Rome, and in addressing these questions, lays the blame
squarely on the backs of the citizenry. Just as we are quick to point out in our modern consumer society, that we get what we pay for, in our
political lives, we get who we vote for. Or, to be more to the point, we wind up getting what we get because we don’t vote. While we argue
tirelessly about whether the Republican push for voter I.D. is a safeguard for our Democracy or a thinly veiled attempt at voter suppression, the sad fact is, it is little more than a redundancy. As a nation, we may like to spout our ideologies at cocktail parties or barbecues, but we are not all that interested in having our voices heard at the polls. Suddenly, on election day we become convinced that what we think doesn’t really matter. Apparently, the two major parties are in full agreement with that sentiment, for rather than offer us candidates, they offer us bread and circuses.

If we look back to the “Hope and Change” campaign of 2008, when then Senator Obama was touted for having brought out young and minority voters in record numbers and changing the the face of the political landscape, a whopping 57% of eligible voters showed up at the polls. That isn’t a number that sends patriotic chills down the spine. It more closely resembles a failing grade on a crucial exam.

In a culture where you are more likely to get a correct answer if you ask people the Yankee batting line-up or who was on last week’s Dancing
with the Stars than if you asked them to name the nine Supreme Court Justices or who the Secretary of Labor is, can we really feign shock
when the TV persona made famous for bellowing “You’re Fired!” becomes a presidential nominee? When for thirty years we have watched while people in and around the White House have stolen national secrets, sold arms to our enemies, perjured themselves and walked away with not only impunity but with a favorable rating in the polls, can we really be outraged at the “two sets of rules” that allows someone with no sense of responsibility regarding security clearances to become a viable candidate for our Commander-in Chief?

For months now (with the notable exception of Senator Sanders) we have been exposed to the manipulation of data, innuendo, fear mongering and name calling. Judging by the events that have recently taken place at the Republican National Convention, we can hold no
illusions that any of that it is likely to stop any time soon. There is also little hope that the tone will be much loftier in Philadelphia. It will consist
mainly of “Vote for me because I’m not him.” That message doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.

We are offered the bread of a $15 an hour minimum wage meant to quiet the desperate, instead of a real economic plan for the creation of jobs that can sustain families. We are offered the circus of building huge walls to protect us from villains, instead of a sane and just immigration policy that will benefit both American workers and those immigrants who dream of a better life for themselves and their families, and intend, through hard work, to become part of the grand mosaic that is America. This coming election day, about half of us will, attempt to decipher who will be less of a detriment to our country, hold our noses, mark a ballot and hope for the best. The other half will sit in front of the giant X-box that we have made of the presidential election and cry out: “Let the games begin.”

July 25, 2016

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