The Capital-Star wanted to know. Here’s everything on my mind this election season | Lloyd E. Sheaffer

CLYDE, OHIO - AUGUST 06: U.S. President Donald Trump arrives to deliver a speech to workers at a Whirlpool manufacturing facility on August 06, 2020 in Clyde, Ohio. Whirlpool is the last remaining major appliance company headquartered in the United States. With more than 3,000 employees, the Clyde facility is one of the world's largest home washing machine plants, producing more than 20,000 machines a day. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

I just want to scream!!

Lloyd E. Sheaffer (Capital-Star file)

When the Pennsylvania Capital-Star recently asked readers for their help in covering the Nov. 3 general election, and how they felt about the issues and challenges facing the commonwealth in this very challenging campaign season, that was my response.

I just wanted to go full-out Howard Beale or Twisted Sister: “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”

I am usually a fairly controlled guy. Yes, I have strong feelings, but I typically have been able to express myself in a modulated way. However, the grumpy old guy that has been seething within me is clawing his way out.

Bowing to my inner curmudgeon’s cantankerous pressure, I offer, in no particular order of rage, some things about the current election cycle that are making—or driving—me mad.

  • First are the lies. One after another the mendaciousness, the dissembling, the duplicitous fabrications are hurled to the public at campaign rallies, via television and social media ads, and in one-on-one interviews. And, apparently, many people, lemming-like, cast themselves into the abyss of falsehoods, leaving any sense of the truth at the edge of the cliff.

For instance, one TV spot supporting the President Donald Trump claims that Joe Biden opposed the killing of Osama bin Ladin. According to Fact Checker, Biden was skeptical and cautious, but he was not opposed to taking out the world’s Enemy #1. This misstatement undergirds other political ads claiming the Democratic candidate is weak and incapable of making difficult decisions. Balderdash!

Another political commercial running in Pennsylvania exhibits faulty generalization to mislead the electorate.  A spokesperson for the Republican candidate for attorney general intones, “Since Josh Shapiro has been our Attorney General, murders have soared in Pennsylvania. Philadelphia is now the second deadliest city in America.”  What logical connection exists between Shapiro being AG and Philly’s murder rate?

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The approach is what is known in rhetoric as an informal fallacy; it is what debaters or philosophers do when they lack concrete evidence to make a case. For example, I could claim “Since the current president has been in office, I have lost much of my hair,” implying some causal connection.  (Wait. That might not be a fallacy, if you count my pulling out my hair every time he dissembles as ‘losing it.’)

  • Not only maddening but also frightening is the growing appearance of armed militia groups at Constitutionally guaranteed protests. These rent-a-cops of the military world, typically right-wingers and supportive of the current Oval Office occupant, seem to view themselves as self-appointed enforcers of “law and order.”

I am worried that in their hidden prepper bunkers they are preparing not only to survive the Apocalypse but also to insert and exert themselves during and after the soon-to-be “rigged” presidential election. I am afraid some of these angst-filled “soldiers” have itchy fingers. Let’s hope the mayonnaise from a Subway sandwich does not smear the trigger finger of the militia man carrying a rocket launcher.

  • I am appalled by the detestable threats to use U.S. forces against U.S. citizens. The promise to restore order in “anarchy jurisdictions” with military force evinces visions of the Russian promise to use tanks against protestors in Belarus. Bullies resort to violence because they lack the skills and the aplomb to address those with whom they disagree. Thugs try to mask their own fear and inadequacies by working to instill fear in others. The “not affiliated with any specific candidate”— yeah, right — PACs’ media spots promise chaos and violence and mayhem if the current tyrant-in-training is not re-elected.

I read somewhere sometime that one rule autocrats live by is this: If you keep repeating an untruth long enough and often enough, many people will begin to accept it as fact. A case in point is the present officer holder’s repeated assertions that the upcoming election is a rigged election, that mail-in voting is unreliable and fraudulent, that if he loses on November 3, the people’s will has been subverted.

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If these preposterous claims are not enough, he plans to use intimidation at the voting booths.  When asked if he would have poll watchers during the election, the office bearer responded, “We’re going to have sheriffs, and we’re going to have law enforcement, and we’re going to have hopefully, U.S. attorneys, and we’re going to have everybody—see above comment about militias,— and attorney generals.” Move over Hungarian dictator Viktor Orban; a fresh despot has arrived.

These attacks on the electoral process deliver a menacing threat to the democratic process, to democracy itself. The incumbent’s unwillingness to assure a peaceful transition of power, a precept of our republic, is horrifying. His failure to say, when asked again and again, that he will accept the results of the election is telling. Evidence indicates he will not consent to the outcome.

“Trump’s state and national legal teams are already laying the groundwork for post-election maneuvers that would circumvent the results of the vote count in battleground states,” reports Barton Gellman in The Atlantic. “According to sources in the Republican Party at the state and national levels, the Trump campaign is discussing contingency plans to bypass election results and appoint loyal electors in battleground states where Republicans hold the legislative majority. With a justification based on claims of rampant fraud, Trump would ask state legislators to set aside the popular vote and exercise their power to choose a slate of electors directly.”

  • Perhaps most disquieting to me about this whole stinking mess is that 45 percent (+/-) of our voters still support this administration with its divisive rhetoric and its odious policies. Nearly one half of our citizenry supports a style of governing that has transformed the infamous swamp into a septic tank. A solid bloc of Americans favors living in an “Us vs. Them” society, the “Us” being a primarily Wasp-ish people and the “Them” being of any color other than white. Oh my. What have we become?

Founding Father Benjamin Franklin’s well articulated comment to a question is worth remembering:

After the Constitutional Convention a lady asked Dr. Franklin, “Well, Doctor, what have we got a republic or a monarchy?”

“A republic,” replied the doctor, “if you can keep it.”

We cannot abide another four years of the turmoil and treachery and discord we are enduring now. We must keep the republic.

We can not—we must not—take it any more!

Opinion contributor Lloyd E. Sheaffer, a retired English and Humanities teacher, writes from North Middleton Township, Pa. His work appears monthly on the Capital-Star’s Commentary page. Readers may email him at [email protected].