When I was a little boy, my mother talked to me about fighting. She knew that some boys were prone to using fists to settle scores. She told me many times, should I ever find myself in a fight, “Don’t fight dirty.” To further explain what she meant, she would add, “No hitting below the belt.” At first this was a mystery to me. I had no idea of the euphemistic nature of “below the belt.” Eventually I learned why it was a bad thing to kick someone in the crotch for any reason, least of all to win a fight. It was wrong to fight dirty. Good boys—good people, for that matter—were clean fighters, if fighting was necessary.
Or so I was taught.
As I grew up I learned also that “fighting dirty” applies to other areas of life besides the fistfights of little boys. Lying, cheating, stealing are all forms of dirty fighting used to grab an advantage over an adversary. And then there were other unmistakable facts of life, such as nice guys finish last, and winning is everything.
Dirty fighting, if it crosses certain boundaries defined by law, is dealt with in the courts. But there is much that goes unchallenged by the masses, and in many cases dirty fighting is encouraged and demanded. I’m not talking about football or hockey. I’m talking about politics—maybe the dirtiest game in town.
Politics is about only one thing: gaining and holding power—the power to control resources. It’s always been about that. Some people who hold power are benevolent and altruistic. They are good statesmen, governors, council members, mayors, representatives, senators, presidents—those who take their stewardship seriously and do the best they can to manage resources wisely for the public good.
And there are the dirty fighters. The public good is the least of their concerns. Power is primary.
As I watch this presidential election season unfold (not to mention the politics of the last four years), I can’t help but think about my mother’s admonition. There is a lot of dirty fighting going on, a lot of hitting below the belt.
There hasn’t been much civil discourse, no lively but respectful debate between two sides each with valid but differing points of view. Rather, we’re becoming more and more polarized as one side fights determinedly to shut down the other. Compromise and a willingness to work together for the common good is a weakness, not virtue.
Many people see this election cycle as a battle between good an evil. I agree. All things considered, and speaking broadly, there is a “good” side and a “bad” side. The paradox is, everyone is on the good side, because each one of us with an opinion believes it the correct one.
I don’t think either of the candidates are bad people per se (some of their supporters, though, are downright evil), but they are caught up in a game that’s impossible to win cleanly. It’s impossible because if either one campaigns with absolute integrity and honesty, running only on his record and proposed policies without attacking the other through the media, he will lose. He will lose A) because his policies and proposals are lacking in substance and common benefit compared to those of his opponent, or B) his opponent will take advantage of his perceived weakness and strike a decisive blow below the belt. So both candidates have to keep up their defenses and strategies of attack. That’s very sad because it muddies the facts for both sides, leaving much of the electorate with emotion as basis for decision-making instead of reason. Ah, yes, but that may be the point after all.
One of the mightiest weapons in any war is propaganda. Thanks to the Internet, propaganda is easy to spread, and anyone can be a propagandist. So much of what we call “news” is either pure propaganda or entertainment (like a demolition derby is entertainment). Programming is designed to rouse the rabble rather than inform a thoughtful electorate. It’s almost impossible to distill truth and fact from the angry mix of hyperbole, accusations, half-truths, and and full-on lies. Thanks, also, to the perplexing views that money equals speech and corporations are people, wealthy corporations are spending obscene sums of money to create more and more propaganda and even buy elections.
I don’t have a solution, but there is one way to help sort through the mess. Following sounds of hatred and scorn will lead to the dirty fighters, the ones without integrity and who will stop at nothing to win. I will go in the other direction, toward sounds of reason and thoughtfulness and concern for the common good. My mother would agree that’s the better path.