Opinion

Why ‘Who should be the next president’ is the wrong question

Voters wait in line to cast their ballots at Milwaukee's Divine Peace Lutheran Church during the Wisconsin U.S. presidential primary election on April 5, 2016. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Kamil Krzaczynski *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-CAMOSY-OPED, originally transmitted on Aug. 3, 2016.

(RNS) It is by now a familiar refrain. Both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are deeply disliked by a large majority of Americans. We do not trust either of them. And given that they have both been caught multiple times in brazen lies, there is more than enough evidence to justify our feeling this way.

Both have flipped on their stated views, sometimes multiple times in just a few days, for baldly political reasons. It is not clear that either candidate has a consistent vision for which he or she stands, and both candidacies were successful largely because of power, privilege and name identification.

The corporations that benefit from our consumption of media surrounding the election have every reason to keep us hooked on the question of who the next president of the United States will be. The ratings and hits bonanza coming out of the debates, conventions, interviews and even daily tweets was summed up well by CBS’ chief executive, who said this election “may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.”

It is time for us to be honest with ourselves: In continuing to obsess over which of these terrible candidates will be the next president, we are asking the wrong question.

I propose that, instead of this question, our focus for the remainder of this election cycle should be on the following:

Deep reflection and prayer with regard to how we got here

How could we have gotten to a place where either Clinton or Trump will be the next president? What kind of social values and structures led to this happening? From where does the broad-based anger and cynicism come? What deep cultural changes need to take place to address these problems? Am I personally contributing to the kind of culture that gave us Trump and Clinton? How can I resist the structures that foster anger and cynicism, and instead help bring people together in solidarity?

Voting for local races

Many local elections, not least because they are less beholden to the power structures of our national politics, are far more interesting and hopeful than national elections. Pro-life Democrats have a chance. Republicans are permitted to take positions in favor of things like paid family leave. Added bonus: Your vote and personal advocacy can have a real impact on the result of the election — and, with it, your local community.

Living out foundational values

I’ve seen it time and time again: Advocacy for presidential election outcomes changes people over time. They start out with a certain set of core values, but eventually those values shift as they become obsessed with electing (or, perhaps more often, defeating) certain presidential candidates. They are pro-life, but slouch toward lazy arguments for the death penalty. They are anti-poverty, but find a way to reject school choice for those on the margins.

Instead of focusing on which candidate will be the next president, perhaps this election cycle is an opportunity to focus on recapturing and living out our foundational values.

Want to contribute to saving the lives of prenatal children? Volunteer at a pregnancy help center.

Want better education outcomes for the poor? Become a regular at after-school reading groups in a marginalized school district.

After all, when God calls us to give an account of our lives, how we voted for president will count far less than whether we saw Jesus in the hungry and gave them food.

By now I hear a critic: “OK, privileged professor, easy for you to say. You are going to be just fine regardless of who wins. But what about those on the margins? They can’t afford to sit by and pretend that what happens in the presidential election doesn’t matter to them. The stakes are just too high, and your privilege blinds you to this fact.”

This is an important objection, but it cuts both ways. Yes, some of those on the margins are imperiled by the ideas Trump has articulated, but others on the margins feel quite differently. Indeed, Trump’s base support comes from people without a college degree. Plus, given the level of dishonesty and cynical position-flipping we’ve seen from both candidates, it isn’t clear that they will do what they say they will do.

As the public discourse swims in a tide of stories about the presidential election, perhaps it is time to proclaim a fast from our consumption of media-related stories about the next president. For this election cycle, at least, there are far more important questions to ask.

 (Charles C. Camosy is associate professor of theological and social ethics at Fordham University)

About the author

Charles C. Camosy

Charlie Camosy, though a native of very rural Wisconsin, has spent more than the last decade as a professor of theological and social ethics at Fordham University. He is the author of five books, including, most recently, "Resisting Throwaway Culture." He is the father of four children, three of whom were adopted from the Philippines.

14 Comments

Click here to post a comment

  • “perhaps it is time to proclaim a fast from our consumption of media-related stories about the next president”

    Now that sounds like a sensible idea!! Maybe even a broader fast from our consumption of media-related stories themselves would be great!!

  • “How could we have gotten to a place where either Clinton or Trump will be the next president? What kind of social values and structures led to this happening? From where does the broad-based anger and cynicism come? What deep cultural changes need to take place to address these problems? Am I personally contributing to the kind of culture that gave us Trump and Clinton? How can I resist the structures that foster anger and cynicism, and instead help bring people together in solidarity?”

    Charles Camosy teaches “Christian ethics” at Fordham university. I guess they just don’t have any mirrors in Charles Camosy land.

  • “And given that they have both been caught multiple times in brazen lies, there is more than enough evidence to justify our feeling this way.”

    Trump has set records for public fibbery not even close to Clinton’s
    http://www.politifact.com/personalities/hillary-clinton/
    http://www.politifact.com/personalities/donald-trump/

    Trump making record numbers of “pants on fire” fibs
    http://www.politifact.com/personalities/donald-trump/statements/byruling/pants-fire/

  • Prof. Camosy has submitted many articles which grossly distorted facts to attack progressive views and soften the image of more reactionary stances. His pieces concerning abortion rights are outright hitpiece screeds.

    Biased language abounds in this article as well,

    “They are pro-life, but slouch toward lazy arguments for the death
    penalty. They are anti-poverty, but find a way to reject school choice
    for those on the margins.”

    “School choice” is a euphemism for vouchers to religious schools and attacks on public education. A violation of the Establishment Clause concepts and amount to state subsidizing sectarian belief. “Pro-life” arguments have been rather lazy for the last 40 years.

  • Public education has a deservedly poor reputation despite the ever increasing sums of money being thrown at it, much of it all too inefficiently absorbed by the rather useless Department of Education. Let’s eliminate the jobs of these ineffectual subsidized government bureaucrats and return it to the states where local government can better determine the allocation of such resources. As to school choice, many non-sectarian private academies exist which would benefit those children who with the availability of vouchers would opt out of the failing public school system. And where do you think the government gets its coin from? From the taxpayers, many of whom heartily endorse the concept of vouchers. For those who can afford it, they’re already sending their kids to private schools, just poll the members of Congress on the education of their own children. If nothing else, it would be a reasonable experiment where results could be measured empirically. If demonstrated affirmative results were shown such programs could be continued and increased, if otherwise such an experiment could be discontinued. In any case we’d be no worse off than we are now.

  • Private and charter schools have no mandate to teach entire potential student populations of a given community. One of the ways they can keep stats up is by being selective as to which students to take or keep. Something which goes against the function of public education to serve the entire public and provide a mandatory education.

    Vouchers represent both a violation of constitutional principles and they divert money from the public which could be used to support public education. It is parasitic to public interests.

    Voucher recipients are not generally people who are net taxpaying contributors. But net recipients of public benefits. Middle class taxpayers generally support their own public schools. Plus popular demand does not vitiate constitutional issues of state funded religion.

    Public education is the chief form of social mobility intros nation. Attacks on it represent a motivation to widen income disparities and undermine social mobility.

  • 1.Why should the govt. have an effective monopoly on education?
    2. There are few things govt. does better than the private sector,
    3. Non-sectarian schools present no constitutional difficulty (as you view it from the 1st Amendment).
    4. Since we subsidize non-net taxpaying contributors anyway to the tune of billions of dollars, there should be no objection to an innovative effort that may prove to be of real worth.
    5. Your final statement is not proven.

  • 1. It doesn’t, but public education is considered a duty to the public. Not a power over them.

    2. Not when it comes to providing services to the entire public in an adequate manner. Privatization efforts create profit incentives not to deliver adequate services and promote corruption.

    3. Non sectarian schools are not religious schools.

    4. The real worth in private education is its ability not to educate the entire public. Middle and upper class people don’t generally send their kids to private schools. They take on large property tax burdens to live in places with decent public ones by and large. So you are talking about what to do with other people’s education.

    5. The expansion of the middle class and white collar employment coincides with the development of public education.

    The worst part of your argument is the idea of complaining of the inadequacy of government services which are being deliberately defunded. It is in bad faith to take money and resources away from something and then complain thereafter of its ineffectiveness.

  • You stated vouchers were a “violation of constitutional principles,” on what basis? The answer lies in your point 3 above: “Non sectarian schools are not religious schools.” I already made that point, thus no unconstitutional issue exists. Those services you cite, if you refer to education as being deliberately defunded, are not being defunded in an effort to impair them, but the defunding is a function of the past failure of the educational establishment in an effort to stop throwing good money after bad. I am not at war with dedicated and competent classroom teachers, I’m against costly layers of bureaucratic administrators, and incompetent teachers protected by the teacher’s unions. The stranglehold the unions have on the public education in New York for decades is a case in point.

  • Where vouchers going to religious schools you have state sponsored sectarian religion. That is basic. The vouchers themselves don’t violate constitutional principles, it’s how they are used. They do however represent a hypocritical policy. Removing money from public schools and using private schools as an alternative to the public schools being made to fail.

    There are no instances where privatization had improved services to the public. It usually is used as an excuse for cronyism and patronage efforts by politicians.

    Public schooling is a duty of government. Failing schools are failure at the government level. Privatizing schools doesn’t solve the problem. At best it just hides it. As private schools have no incentive to adequately educate an entire population. Something public schools must do.

  • That is a hidebound argument. We are all the “public” even when we have the desire to have our children schooled by private institutions which typically produce better results. As a parent, from the time my daughter entered kindergarten to the time I watched her graduate with a “modified” diploma from the public school system I observed closely the continuing decline in the quality of the educational process even as more money was being thrown at it. It’s no surprise Johnny can’t read, and Jean can’t think critically. A prime example is the abandonment in public schools of teaching reading and vocabulary using systematic phonetics for the abysmal and lazy methodology euphemistically labeled “Guess and Go.” That was my first clue something was dreadfully wrong with the public system.

  • You are working under a false premise. Private schools below the college level produce decent statistics because they can choose students in a way publc schools cannot. Privatizing education is not an improvement in quality. It simply means you have foregone the mandate of the government to provide education for the entire population. From what I have seen with the public education system is that people in well off towns don’t talk about privatizing the schools. Nor about issues with they methods employed by the public educators. Throwing money at a system produces results.

    The problem you have here is you are trying to scale up arguments which may be really more appropriate for discussing your more local and family situation. Taking money out of a system and complaining it lacks the ability to function is a bad faith argument conservatives employ concerning government services. Be it education, financial regulation, environmental enforcement or immigration.

ADVERTISEMENTs