Can’t Not Look

Eager to get to the university on one of my teaching days, I left the house early—only to find myself sitting in stalled traffic on the interstate for 45 minutes. Sirens screamed, and ambulances roared by. 

There was no doubt that an accident, probably a bad one, lay ahead. When traffic finally began moving and we neared the crash site, part of me wanted to avert my gaze. Yet I couldn’t seem to not look. Maybe, I thought, this was about the darker part of my human nature, a morbid curiosity about horrible things happening to other people. I was like a kid at a horror movie covering my eyes and then peeking through my fingers.

Sure enough, banged up cars were strewn across two lanes of the three-lane road. The worst hit vehicle lay crumpled up like a giant piece of aluminum foil. The accident victims had all been removed, and I said a silent prayer that they’d survived.

My experience on the highway reminds me of how I’ve felt throughout this presidential campaign, especially in the last days and weeks. Tuning into the news has meant watching the Republican nominee implode, explode, and ram anyone whom he defines as the enemy (the list is growing). It’s been like having a ringside seat to a demolition derby.

This is an important election. So why is it impossible to engage one of the nominees in a substantive discussion of the issues? As one commentator described it, we’ve been bombarded by massive “political porn.” I’ve run out of adjectives to describe the Republican nominee’s behavior. “Disgusting,” “vile,” and “appalling” are getting quite a workout. And I’m taking a lot more showers after watching the news.

So I ask myself: Why don’t I simply turn the television off? Stop reading the newspaper? Yet I don’t. I admit it—I’m morbidly fascinated by watching such a total debacle.  I’m not proud of myself for this admission. It’s as though I’ve discovered I find truly awful behavior entertaining.

But it’s also scary. This election is not in fact reality television or a demolition derby. Whom we choose as our president will have major consequences for our nation and the world. What does it say about our country that millions of folks apparently think the Republican nominee’s rhetoric and behavior are acceptable? And that we don’t need to engage in civil discourse about the serious issues confronting our nation?

So, I’m not proud of myself for finding this bloody mess addicting to observe, but I’m also saying a silent prayer for our country. Who could have predicted that presidential debates would become “R-rated” for our kids, and leave us adults feeling squeamish for having tuned in?

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