Blame cable news for over­dra­ma­tized elec­tion

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - OPINION - Gene Lyons Arkansas Times

As the na­tional po­lit­i­cal melo­drama drew near its end, a some­time email cor­re­spon­dent in Texas wor­ried about my safety. An ux­o­ri­ous older gen­tle­man with a love of horses and a weak­ness for con­spir­acy the­o­ries, he was al­ways puz­zled and of­ten an­gered by my apos­tasy.

“Be­ing down there in Arkansas,” he warned, “you may not like the way Trump’s sup­port­ers re­spond if they’ve been read­ing your columns.”

I an­swered that while I’ve been mak­ing my views clear for decades, “I’ve never even had any­body speak to me rudely about it.”

The ru­ral county I called home for the past nine years has no stop­lights, and lots more cows than peo­ple. It voted two to one for Mitt Rom­ney in 2008, and doubt­less fa­vored Trump too. (Al­though not the African-Amer­i­can precincts around our place.) But it’s con­sid­ered rude to ar­gue about pol­i­tics or re­li­gion. Peo­ple just don’t do it. I had neigh­bors and friends I spoke with reg­u­larly whose po­lit­i­cal views I could only guess at.

Only a hand­ful of peo­ple who agreed with my columns ever men­tioned them. Other­wise, well, I take good care of my an­i­mals, and while not real handy with a chain­saw, I’m very good at catch­ing es­caped horses and herd­ing cows back home. Also, ev­ery­body likes my wife. On bal­ance, then, not a bad old boy for a trans­planted Yan­kee.

My Texas cor­re­spon­dent nev­er­the­less pre­dicted rough times ahead.

“The peo­ples of the world,” he added, “ain’t go­ing to go qui­etly into one world glob­al­ism.”

A chimeri­cal fear, of course. Any­body with a lick of sense knows global govern­ment isn’t re­motely pos­si­ble. Na­tion states are frag­ment­ing all over the world. How­ever, the­o­log­i­cal anti-com­mu­nism has mor­phed into a gen­er­al­ized fear of The Other, sym­bol­ized by Barack Obama and trans­ferred to Hil­lary Clin­ton -- prob­a­bly the most lied-about Amer­i­can politi­cian since FDR, or maybe Lin­coln.

I urged him not to send his money to fight this imag­i­nary threat.

But never fear, there’s a guy named Terry in Penn­syl­va­nia who’s keep­ing up the honor of crank email­ers ev­ery­where. To hear him tell it, Terry -- a teacher, coach and com­bat vet­eran, he says -- is itch­ing to give me a beat­ing:

“If you saw me in per­son ... I would show you what a tough guy, real man, looks like. I train with weights 5 days a week and mar­tial arts 3 days a week. Also, a for­mer Marine who has dodged en­emy sniper fire. I could breathe on your scrawny ass and send you to the ground. You’re too scared to meet me per­son with­out bring­ing law en­force­ment, that’s what women do. Big talk from a closet homo, in deep love with Bill Cosby Clin­ton.”

Um, scrawny? No. But of course I’m never go­ing to see Terry in per­son, be­cause guys who send threat­en­ing emails ... Well, they send threat­en­ing emails. It goes with the ter­ri­tory. Al­ways has.

Sure, there’s been a lot of that this elec­tion year. How­ever, jour­nal­ists who ought to know bet­ter are tak­ing this ex­cit­ing voter anger theme more se­ri­ously than they should. Obama’s the most pop­u­lar pres­i­dent since Rea­gan, and for good rea­son. But if you promise to put peo­ple on na­tional TV to vent, then vent they surely will.

The Wash­ing­ton Post’s Paul Farhi re­cently doc­u­mented the cable net­works’ “un­prece­dented prof­its.” CNN is ex­pected to clear $1 bil­lion, Fox News $1.67 bil­lion, and MSNBC $279.6 mil­lion from stag­ing this de­grad­ing but ex­cit­ing spec­ta­cle. Any ques­tions? So far, how­ever, it’s still just a TV show.

Arkansas Times colum­nist Gene Lyons is a Na­tional Mag­a­zine Award win­ner and co-author of “The Hunt­ing of the Pres­i­dent” (St. Martin’s Press, 2000). You can email Lyons at eu­gene­lyons2@ya­hoo.com.

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