The TMI election

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As the campaign of 2016 plods merrily along, I find myself awash in a wave of sympathy for voters who are trying to make a rational decision about which candidate to support, and also for the historians who, decades hence, will sit down to write the history of what I am convinced will be remembered as the first, great “TMI Election”.
TMI – Too Much Information.  Being told more than you need to know in order to make a decision or perform a task.  For example – “You ask him what time it is and he tells you how to make a watch.”  TMI) If there was ever a “TMI Election,” this one is it. Elections didn’t used to be this way.
Once upon a time, not so very long ago it seems, information was manageable. Back then I would rise early, start the coffee, get the newspaper, and settle down to read up on what I needed to know. Add to my daily paper a couple of magazines and the evening news on TV, and I was ready. Today I rise early, start the coffee, and turn on my computer.
Even before I can go to The Star’s site, my webpage brings up articles from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and such.
Overwhelmed by this mess of material, I turn to my email, only to find letters from folks who are certain that I want to see the political world the way they see it.  These usually include links to more articles which the correspondent adds to show me that other folks think as they do – confirmation by overkill.
So I go to Facebook, which I joined to keep up with family and friends. Sure enough, in with all the pictures of children, pets, and what folks had to eat last night, are more links to more political articles posted to let me know what my Facebook friends believe are the important issues that are facing our nation.  Now I make a real effort to keep up with things, but it gets harder every day.  Much of this difficulty comes from the fact that in addition to hard news – who, what, when, where – I get editorials from major and minor news outlets, columns by major and minor pundits, and in the comment section that follows these articles I find controversy, contention, consternation and conflict. Can you think of another “C” word? Constipation? But I digress.
Though occasionally I find spirited debate in these commentary sections, increasingly they have become outlets for bitching and moaning, places where folks can vent their anger and frustration, and often in language that would start a fight if the opponents were face to face. It got so bad that National Public Radio has dropped this commentary from its web page.
Now let me say that bitching and moaning has its place, though the bitchers and moaners need to keep in mind that more often than not their carrying on tells us more about them than about the issues that got their boxers in a bunch.
However, it also adds to the information of which there is already too much.
Which gets me around to historians. In the past, students of American elections had mounds of material to go through – newspapers to thumb through, government documents, personal papers belonging to the candidates and such.  Although the mound got smaller the further back you went, it was still a lot. But nothing like today.
Which means that a few decades from now some scholar will have to wade through all of this to tell the story — a daunting task to say the least.  They will have to analyze polls, follow the spins put out as press releases, become familiar with news and commentary in print and online. They will have to deal with the work of press agents and campaign managers who try to convince voters that their candidate is the best choice. Apparently unconscious of how history will treat them (or uncaring, it could go either way),  they are leaving a record that will become part of history almost as soon as it is made public.
In this flood of information, hard news and political propaganda are not only difficult to separate, they are purposely blended so that the audience can’t tell one from the other, assuming that they want to.
If you think all this is hard for voters to sort out today, think of the task a decade or so from now.
Yet, if the history of the election of 2016 is ever written, it is from all of this that written it will be.  I  am just glad it won’t be me writing it.
Harvey H. (“Hardy”) Jackson is Professor Emeritus of History at Jacksonville State University.  He can be reached at hjackson@cableone.net.

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