We can be thankful that the 2016 election nightmare is officially over. There are almost no happy observations we can make, but I’m compelled to talk about the bad, which has outweighed the good. The best thing that happened during the entire election cycle was the Cubs-Indians World Series. At least we had a few moments of relaxation thanks to the battle of two underdogs.
I’m not sure which disappointment to list first, but let’s start with the influence of big money. The race between Todd Kaminsky and Chris McGrath for a State Senate seat in the 9th District is reported to have cost $7 million. If that’s true, and I believe it is, it’s not only obscene, but outrageous. The fate of every Long Island Senate seat is a big deal, because they affect control of the Senate. But $7 million?
When you look around the country and hear how much money was spent on House and Senate races, you’ll find that, collectively, they cost over $1 billion. Add to that the battle for the White House, which easily cost over $1 billion by itself. The good news is that as far as New York state is concerned, we generally know where all the money came from. When it comes to national races, however, we had no idea where the big bucks came from, and that’s the scandal.
Thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court, corporations are considered people, and they can give — and give freely. The Citizens United case opened the door to uncontrolled spending in federal races, and the targets are now both Republicans and Democrats. Republican candidates were happy (for a short time) that all that mystery money would pour into their campaigns. Lately, quite a few Republicans I know are complaining about the amount of money their Democratic rivals are spending, so the through-the-roof spending is finally bashing both parties.
My second great disappointment in this election is what it did to personal relationships. Once upon a time you could have an intelligent conversation about your favorite candidates, no matter their party, but not this year. I have witnessed, with shock, dozens of verbal battles between husbands and wives, fathers and children and total strangers on the street. It’s fine to clash over which candidate is best qualified, but calling people crooks, perverts and other obscenities is way over the line of protected free speech.
The tone of this year’s battle has been disgraceful. It started during the Republican primary debates, when Donald Trump had a name for all of his opponents, from “Little Marco” Rubio to “Lyin’ Ted” Cruz to “Low Energy” Jeb Bush, all of which were uncalled for. I can’t imagine what happened during the historic Lincoln-Douglas debates, but I don’t think Abe Lincoln called for his opponent to be locked up. What’s worse is that we encourage our students to pay attention to the election, and they see things like a grown man mimicking a disabled person and talking about attacking women.
As the father of four daughters, I very much resented Trump’s verbal assaults on women based on their body types, looks and real or imagined stamina. What’s terribly sad is that elections don’t automatically stop people from doing obnoxious things. Women have a hard enough time competing with men; they didn’t need Trump to raise the glass ceiling even higher. Hillary Clinton may have called Trump supporters “deplorables,” but at least she apologized. Trump doesn’t apologize for anything.
My last and greatest disappointment is the Federal Bureau of Investigation. As far back as I can remember, it was the gold standard for law enforcement. I can still envision Elliot Ness locking up the bad guys and putting the FBI on the map. In recent years, the FBI and the Central Intelligence Agency have been feuding instead of cooperating on the challenging issues of the day. The recent conduct of the FBI raises the issue of whether it’s an investigative agency or a political club.
Let’s all hope that the next national election will be conducted at a higher level. Unfortunately, the next 12 months promise to be more of the same ugly stuff.
Jerry Kremer was a state assemblyman for 23 years, and chaired the Assembly’s Ways and Means Committee for 12 years. He now heads Empire Government Strategies, a business development and legislative strategy firm. Comments about this column? JKremer@liherald.com.