Aggressive campaigns are nothing new to presidential elections. It is imperative for the public to favor one candidate over another — this is the basis of how the elections work. However, the means for swaying the public has grown increasingly distasteful, especially in the current 2016 election. The two presidential hopefuls, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, are both guilty of pushing the envelope. Questions of character are common — lately, they have been timed to a tee and edge on outright smear campaigning.
A little more than a week before the final presidential debate, the Official Team Trump page released a 30-second video on Twitter, raising questions about Hillary Clinton’s health. The clip features footage of Clinton coughing and receiving walking assistance from others. A narrator makes serious claims that Clinton “doesn’t have the fortitude, strength or stamina” to serve our country.
The timing is not coincidental. As we approach the last debate of the election cycle and with Election Day looming closer, both candidates must spread their influence as far as possible. Intended focuses have been speculated for each debate, though those seem largely forgotten once the candidates come onto the stage together.
During the first debate, Trump could have focused on appealing to women and minority voters to seal those gaps in his approval ratings. Instead, much of his talking time focused on attacking Clinton’s character and history. Likewise, Clinton spent significant time responding to Trump’s claims, rather than focusing on policy questions.
These personal attacks are snowballing out of control. With one attack comes another in retaliation and a nearly unstoppable cycle begins. This constant back-and-forth can quickly derail discussion time, which should be dedicated solely to national issues and serious questions of moral judgment. Instead, the two debates have offered the public only glimpses of real discussion wedged around constant firing of insults. This often boils down to petty arguing.
The timing of larger scandals may be most detrimental — for example, leaked video of Trump’s alleged claims of sexual assault on women and photographs of Clinton looking haggard to raise question of health concerns. These complications often arise just in time for major appearances or televised discussion, which blocks significant time to explore the candidates’ platforms.
It is difficult for undecided voters to make their decision when platforms are clogged by bickering. Rather than debating what the candidates truly believe in, casual conversation among peers often reduces to the biggest scandals blown up through media. How many times have we heard about Clinton’s emails? Even the most insignificant arguments are given coverage — Trump’s hand size was once deemed important enough to warrant several news articles.
There is a place in the election process for some of these concerns. Questions of character surely have standing, especially in light of potential sexual assault or compromised national security. The degree to which we discuss and advertise them, however, is excessive. Too often, conversation becomes unhinged and the public must listen to the same issues on repeat, or threats of new ones surfacing. Problems of little relevance or substance should be shortly addressed, if at all. Then, we need to push attention back to the real problems in our country.