|A visual representation of the U.S. election cycle in 2016|
This election cycle has broken any records for a sulfurous, scabrous, X-rated version of democracy.
We are in the midst of the perfect distillation of campaigning based on unlimited money by corporations chasing soundbites on television and mailer attack ads. In this version of democracy, candidates for office are either rich to start or slaves to money.
It would be one thing if we were content or happy with the result. We are not. Who could be?
Managing elections has evolved into a multi-billion dollar business for campaign consultants, media personalities, executives and shareholders. From that narrow circle, legions of lobbyists radiate across the landscape of legislatures in Congress, in states, counties and municipalities. It is awful, and it gets worse.
2016 is the final distillation of elections conducted as though fourth grade recess in a playground unsupervised by adults.
Donald Trump's campaign fuses the reality TV format to that unsupervised fourth grade playground. "If it is a toxic campaign," Trump seems to exult, "I'll be the world's biggest polluter and president of the United States."
American political behavior in 2016 reached a dead-end. That is not only the crisis of Donald Trump and the GOP, but the crisis of American democracy held hostage to the permanent campaign.
Efforts to restrain our toxic political culture -- like term limits -- have failed.
The GOP exulted in the US Supreme Court of Citizens United decision in 2010. David Bossie, the organizer of the Citizens United lawsuit, is a Trump deputy campaign manager. Citizens United and its impacts match cleanly with the advent of television news as partisan entertainment, invented by another Trump advisor and fellow sex groper, Roger Ailes.
This is American exceptionalism?
It is no surprise that false equivalencies are a dominating this campaign cycle, either.
Take the race for state senate between Jose Javier Rodriguez and Miguel Diaz de la Portilla in a new Miami-Dade district that now leans Democratic.
Diaz de la Portilla is a land use lobbyist and former county commissioner whose campaign is supported by Florida's dominant political culture of growth-at-any-cost. DLP now charges that Jose Javier Rodriguez is also a lobbyist and supported by donors who, DLP won't come out and say, funded Fair Districts, the constitutional amendment overwhelmingly supported by Florida voters to reset the gerrymandered GOP district map.
One supporter of Jose Javier Rodriguez, a target in DLP's television ads, is Miami Beach resident, Christopher Findlater. On his Facebook page, Findlater writes of his qualifications and biography,
"Former ceo and co-founder of a successful online marketplace. This competition disrupted the insurance industry, lowered insurance rates which angered many in the insurance industry. In 2005, I sold my half. Since 2005, I have no ties to NetQuote, nor the insurance industry. I would even advocate that health insurance should be universal and not-for-profit. They shouldn't make money when we get sick. With my new resources I decided to give back to our country that made my success possible and to pursue my passions: online journalism, election finance reform and climate change. My proudest shared achievement was the passage of the Fair Districts amendment setting standards for fairness in Florida redistricting. I use my resources to make a difference and be an advocate for those who are without one. In seeking fair elections I have no profit motive nor personal benefit."
This tactic -- accusing one's opponent of exactly one's own negative -- seems to have taken off like a rocket. "That makes you a puppet (of Putin)", Hillary Clinton charged and Trump instantly responded, instinctively, "No, you're the puppet."
Diaz de la Portilla's charges are false. With a week left in the campaign, and TV and radio ads are filled with such negative attacks is it any wonder so many are turned off? That, by the way, is another goal of negative campaigning: to depress voter turnout.
Conservatives have railed against campaign finance reform, but even the most hard-line conservatives must now acknowledge that this campaign year and its excesses have defeated their values (unless their values can be expressed as government meant to fail).
The United States and Democracy can't be maintained on this elections landscape; barren, desiccated and strewn with bombed-out campaigns littering the side of the road like vehicle shells.
The American experiment in democracy began in a nation less populous than a single large American city today. The wise men and women would recognize that if there is no supervision of the fourth grade playground it quickly transforms into an animal farm.
In addition to better rules for electioneering, conservatives should recognize the need for the Fairness Doctrine to be powerfully reinstated as a condition of FCC licenses to media outlets on radio and television. This isn't a matter of restraining free speech: this is about survival.
Campaign finance limits, shorter campaigns mandated by law; let the scholars propose options for reform that citizens and their representatives can consider.
Observers understand: if campaign finance and electoral reform were that simple, it would have been done long ago. But necessity is the mother of invention, and our time of need is now.