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The Politics of Scandal

by on May 18, 2017 5:00 AM

Tuesday was primary day in Pennsylvania and we were reminded of our civic duty to vote for positions from judges, to register of wills to district attorney. But this week that was just a footnote as political events spiraled more and more quickly out of control. Once again we found ourselves in a nation caught in the politics of scandal, a sideshow that is unworthy of our nation.

Now, everyone likes to point at Washington to discuss our broken politics, but the politics of scandal are not confined to the national stage. Even here in the Centre County District Attorney Democratic primary, nasty mailers from outside groups flooded local mailboxes. One even came from a man in Bucks County whose political leanings seem very much the antithesis of Democratic Party ideals. Another mailer was one of the most sexist political pieces I’ve ever received.

But that is where we are as a nation. We root for our “team” and we have reached a place where any means can be justified to reach the desired end.

Without any definite proof of wrongdoing yet, the last 10 days of the Trump administration has been one revelation after another about allegations that are growing increasingly serious. President Trump has made no secret of his disdain for the media.

As a result of the president’s tweets calling out the media as a group, as well as individual organizations and journalists, he has made no friends. In particular, the Washington Post and The New York Times seem locked in competition like we haven’t seen on a story since the days of Watergate. Each side is racing to get the next leak, the next scoop and the allegations they’re reporting are increasingly alarming.

If these allegations prove to be true then they should be dealt with in a serious, deliberate and sober manner over time.

In the meantime when was the last time any of us read about or heard about or saw any newscast that dealt with some of the serious issues of our times?

Want to talk about Syria? You can’t talk about that without the Russians and the investigations.

Want to talk about the president’s visit to Israel? That reminds us that the Israelis reportedly furnished the intelligence (or facts) that Trump admittedly shared with the Russians.

Want to talk about reforming America’s drug laws? That brings up Attorney General Jeff Sessions who had to recuse himself from the Russian investigations because of his contact with the Russians during the campaign.

Want to talk about the latest round of cyberattacks that was potentially carried out by people using information gleaned from NSA leaks? Candidate Trump encouraged and welcomed hacking into government computers to find Hillary Clinton’s emails.

Want to talk about North Korea? You have to mention that our ally South Korea has a new president because the last one was impeached which brings us to the rush of Democrats calling for impeachment.

Want to talk about the attempts at health care reform? Discussing pre-existing conditions and prescription drug coverage isn’t as sexy as cover-up stories. It doesn’t move product like the politics of scandal.

There are a host of other issues from education, to energy to the environment to trade and the economy but there is so little real talk about this in the public that it is hard to find out what is going on and where we are headed.

The politics of scandal are dominating our national discourse where once we were seen as a beacon of self-government with a mature system of checks and balances. President Trump came to Washington to drain the swamp, but the swamp waters have only risen since his arrival and if we aren’t careful we could find ourselves drowning.

The truth is that both sides blame the other side. The president blames “fake news”. The media protests at the way they are treated. The people who supported Trump blame the “elites” and the “elites” cling to the popular vote numbers as proof that they really are the majority.

The truth is we all bear the blame for the illness that pervades our politics. We are all covered in the mud. The repeated missteps by this administration, whether sinister or incompetence only add to the flood tides.

A good read of history shows that our founders were no angels. There was plenty of scandal-driven politics in their day. But they were serious people working together through meaningful compromise to lay an enduring foundation that governs us still today. If the challenges of our times demanded it, would that same seriousness of purpose be found in our politicians and in our society today?

The real danger is that we may not see the coming storms because the bright lights of scandal politics and media and the opportunists seizing on every allegation have blinded us from seeing the true work of the nation ahead. This could be a long hot summer in the District of Columbia. It remains to be seen how we as a nation will come out the other side.



State College native and Penn State graduate Jay Paterno is a father, husband and political volunteer. He’s a frequent guest lecturer on campus and at Penn State events and was the longtime quarterbacks coach for the Nittany Lions. His column appears every other Thursday. Follow him on Twitter at
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