As the 2016 U.S. presidential race continues on its lurid, nasty road, I find myself reflecting on the virulent, sickening process we Americans engage in to elect our leaders, and wondering if there could not possibly be a better way.
Growing up in Scranton, Pennsylvania, the elementary school I attended was small but vibrant. As a way of teaching the students about politics and civics, a student election was held every year. The officers chosen were student president, vice president, secretary and treasurer. Those elected were given limited authority in some minor areas that I no longer even remember. The campaign began around three weeks before Election Day in November. Then, on the same day the grownups were going to the polls, we voted in school for the peers of our choosing.
Here are a few things America can learn from the honest decency of its heartland:
The school insisted that in order to run for office, a student had to be worthy of being a role model. The candidates were well-behaved kids who were also good students. Excluded from running were those with a history of unacceptable conduct who were frequently in trouble because of what they did and how they spoke.
The campaign was of limited duration. It began three weeks before the election but no sooner. There were times set aside for debates and speeches, but the frequency of these events was restricted as well. (This is not to say that a U.S. presidential election should last only three weeks, but the U.S. should perhaps pay attention to what some European countries do. Their campaigns last only a few months. There is no Citizens United, and how much money can be spent is limited.)
The conduct of our election campaign was very respectful and, for children of that age, very intelligent. The speeches, debates, and advertising all focused on issues. Without question, a candidate who would have attempted to get ahead through insults and name-calling would have been immediately disqualified and replaced by someone deemed sufficiently honorable to hold office in our 100 student school.
Finally, the campaign promises were framed within the context of reality. The candidates spoke believably on what they attempted to do if elected. For example, a presidential hopeful might have promised that if elected, he or she would organize a school-wide raffle and raise enough money to buy board games for each class for use during recess on rainy days. But a nominee who promised to raise enough money to buy the school a swimming pool would have had no chance of winning. We students all understood that a person who would blatantly lie in order to get what they want is unfit to serve.
Imagine how different things would be if the U.S. elections were run with as much honor and common sense.