Become an 1819 Member
The primary elections are finally over! Yet discussion continues about the role attack ads played in Katie Britt’s victory over Mo Brooks and other competition. Part of me thinks that the effect of negative ads is exaggerated. After all, voters aren’t stupid. We know how the game works and that we shouldn’t believe everything we hear without verifying it. Yet I also know that in a world so saturated with information, it’s easy to poison the well. It’s hard to sift through the massive amounts of accounts, so often first impressions - or the loudest and most often repeated ones - are lasting.
Running a campaign is essentially crafting a story, with protagonists and villains, problems, quests and goals for the future. What kind of story sways voters the most these days? Are we seeking the good or more fascinated by the bad?
Personally, I started taking notice of Katie Britt after she shared a compelling story of how Jesus protected her children during the devastating 2011 tornados. She painted a picture of what she stood for and the kind of world she hoped to build, not just what she stood against. Yet her campaign did shift focus, spending more and more time tearing down her opponents. Is that really what made the difference?
Social media indicates that people would rather chase the negative than seek out the positive. Facebook has taught us that anger and hate sell, and boy do they sell well. These days people are just as likely, or more so, to define themselves by what they oppose as by what they love and support. People enjoy hearing about scandalous views and troubled pasts to give themselves something to condemn.
I’ve seen this shifted focus in pop culture as well, not just politics. Gone are the days of black and white characters like Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker. Now everyone wants to wallow in the moral ambiguity of gray, tortured characters. People seem fascinated by evil. We want to investigate the mindset of people who do things we think are wrong. Rather than asking, what is good, what should we stand for, and how can we live well, people ask, what is the nature of evil, why do we make wrong choices, and are they really wrong?
This mindset makes a difference in how young people grow up and view the world. If our fictional heroes teach us to spend more time looking through a microscope at evil than at good, we start to look at our real-life role models in such a way as well. It certainly affected my mindset, and that of my peers, growing up, to see more and more defeatist, apocalyptic, grimdark stories about the future.
It is human to seek out knowledge of both good and evil. We must ask all these questions, but which answers matter most?
I recently encountered a discussion that really stuck with me. A fellow book lover pointed out how older fiction focuses more on how to achieve good than how to understand and avoid evil. You may be familiar with C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia series. In The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, four children fall through a magic wardrobe into a fantastical land. There, they must save a land cursed with eternal winter by defeating an evil witch with the help of the good lion Aslan. Throughout this story, we learn very little about the White Witch, her past, motivations, or psyche. Our characters show little interest in learning more about her, but in contrast, they are enamored with Aslan, the Christ figure of the story. Who is he? How can they come to know him better? How should they establish a good kingdom in place of an evil one?
There is a reason that stories with archetypal characters stand the test of time and appeal to so many people. What a difference it makes to think, “I am running toward the good,” rather than “I am running away from the bad.” Even if you achieve the latter, what remains? But if you establish the good, it endures to the next generation.
We see a similar trend throughout history. Which leaders and politicians do we remember most? What speeches, quotes, and proclamations? Even in times of conflict, like war and starvation, people remember moments of strength and compassion: George Washington relinquishing his power, Lincoln’s declaration of freedom and emancipation, the resolve of the generals and soldiers who liberated Europe from Germany in WWII.
Yes, we have also asked why our ancestors supported such a cruel institution as slavery, in a country meant to model freedom. Why did the Nazis fall so far, and why did their soldiers obey such horrifying orders? We should indeed point out what is wrong and understand the mistakes we have made in the past, so we can avoid them in the future.
But most campaigns do not display such an intention - to help voters discover the true character and heart of all candidates. Too often, the tales that fly around during elections instead satisfy the human fascination with misfortune and conflict. As long as we live in a broken world, we will never see an end to such tactics. But we, as voters, can choose to dismiss the negative and hold our candidates accountable for modeling good rather than spending so much time digging up or falsely constructing a bad report.
I hope our newest leaders (if they win the general election) go on to chase after what is right and true and beautiful. I’d rather hear that they stand for freedom, responsibility, integrity, and righteousness than that they oppose sexual immorality, fiscal irresponsibility, and other liberal ideology. For we triumph over evil by establishing a foundation of good that endures.
Caylah Coffeen is the host of Prayers For Life Radio in Huntsville and a millennial who speaks up for truth and a future as bright as the stars. Her column appears every Friday in 1819 News. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to Commentary@1819News.com.
Don’t miss out! Subscribe to our newsletter and get our top stories every weekday morning.