A student I'm tutoring at the community college had to write a paper on a historical figure who had great power and influence. Most people would pick Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Abraham Lincoln or John Kennedy. He picked Adolf Hitler.
The student isn't a racist or a skinhead. He is actually Hispanic, and he's just trying to do something different. And whatever else you can say about Adolf Hitler, he did have a lot of influence, and does to this day. There are still Nazis prowling around Europe and the U. S. And about the worst you can say about someone is that they are like Hitler.
Which brings me to Donald Trump. No, I do not think he's like Hitler. But he is having a lot of influence on American presidential politics. He has crystallized the changes in the way we elect a president in this country -- and turned it into a reality show.
And maybe that's not a bad thing. Donald Trump is ushering in a new age of electioneering. In place of cumbersome and sometimes too-close-to-call primaries and general elections that suffer from negative ads, overexposure of the candidates and low voter turnout, we are creating a reality TV show to decide who will be our next leader.
The format will follow in the footsteps of "Survivor," "Dancing with the Stars" or Trump's own "The Apprentice." Candidates for president -- or any other major office, for that matter -- will take part in a series of contests. Each performance will be critiqued by three judges --perhaps former presidents, or else celebrity chefs -- who would offer their opinions along with some entertaining banter. Then the audience will text in their votes. And to those who wonder if the result will be fair, I say this: Verizon or AT&T never had a problem with a hanging chad.
The electoral process will take place over one television season of eight to ten weeks. And because there's no doubt that a political campaign is at least in part a beauty contest, the first episode would focus on the candidates' physical attributes, as well as their poise, self-confidence and ability to connect non-verbally with the audience -- I was going to say "electorate" but surely we are more of an "audience" than an "electorate." And In this category, I'd say advantage Trump.
The runway competition would be followed by a fast-paced makeup challenge -- elected officials do have to look good when they appear on TV -- which in turn would lead to a dance contest. What better way to demonstrate grace under pressure? Again, advantage Trump.
Here are other events (perhaps you might suggest a few other relevant episodes?)
A joke-telling contest. Can the candidate offer a joke suggestive enough to be funny, but without the racial, gender or cultural slurs that so often land candidates in hot water? Advantage Sanders ... hey, he's still in the race!
A finger-pointing event. This is a useful skill when confronted by hostile reporters. The candidate must point a finger with authority, but not come on so strong that he or she elicits sympathy for the person at the other end of the finger. Advantage Clinton.
A trivia game. To test candidates on their knowledge of current events. Where is Darfur? How do you pronounce Ranil Wickremesinghe (Prime Minister of Sri Lanka) or Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedodw (President of Turkmenistan). Advantage Clinton.
Deal or No Deal. How else to choose a running mate? Jury's still out.
This new method of choosing our leaders will offer huge benefits. So huge you will be amazed. It will shorten the political season from the current marathon to one crisp, well-crafted season. Instead of deadening the public interest with an endless series of boring reports and debates, it would focus America's attention on the contest and heighten our interest in the outcome. Voter turnout will increase.
Instead of draining the public purse on expensive campaigns -- with all the attendant corruption and conflicts of interest -- the new format would instantly solve the campaign finance issue. The cost to the candidates will be minimal, yet profits will skyrocket at the beleaguered old-media outlets as they reap in reality TV ad dollars.
The new format will also elevate the level of public discourse. No more negative campaign ads. No more bickering over irrelevant issues, unbelievable denials and insincere apologies. The indecipherable electoral college scheme? Gone the way of all other anachronisms.
I really can't think of a serious objection to this idea. Hold televised debates instead? Hah! We've tried this, and the news anchors get more attention than the candidates. Ask news commentators to actually discuss the issues rather than the latest scandal or the newest poll? Please, get serious. And forget trying to raise the level of discourse by educating the American public -- you might as well ask people to drive compact cars at 55 m.p.h. in order to save the environment.
Finally, may I just note that I have nothing to gain by offering this plan. I have no connection to any political party, other than being a typically long-ignored registered voter. I have no interest in any TV network or current reality show. In fact, last year, when our last kid left the house, we unplugged our big-screen TV and brought it down to the basement where it now serves the more useful purpose of hiding the entrance to our newly constructed bomb shelter.