As I watched the coverage of the coordinated terror attacks against Paris on Friday night, I thought back to what I — and the political world — was focused on just 24 hours earlier.
This was it.
That's Donald Trump simulating what being stabbed in the belt buckle might look like as a way to mock the personal story of GOP frontrunner Ben Carson. (Trump also asked if anyone in the audience in Fort Dodge, Iowa wanted to come up and try to stab him.)
The contrast was — and is — striking. In Paris, the latest evidence of the global struggle between the West and Islamic extremism — a fight with massive cultural, religious and societal implications for who we are now and how we live together. Stateside, a real-estate investor-turned-reality-star unleashing a 95-minute tirade against, well, everyone.
Events like the attacks in Paris should remind Americans of the stakes of the election next November. We are at a historical pinch point in which how we relate to the rest of the world is changing. The open wound left by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 — a tragic wake-up call to the new reality of America in the world — has been healed over in these past 14 years. But, the ideology that caused the 9/11 attacks has only grown in the intervening years as this Paris attack — not to mention the attack in January against Charlie Hebdo and scores of others around the world — make clear.
And yet, the process we have built to elect the person who will lead our country amid this dangerous world tends to accentuate the smallness of our politics rather than the bigness of the job for which these men and women are running. Think back on the last week in our politics — from the Trump rant to a debate over whether our politicians would kill Baby Hitler to a disagreement over whether Jeb Bush dissed Marco Rubio at the debate on Tuesday night. Not exactly a high-minded conversation centered on the new geopolitical realities we as Americans face, right?
Of course, the media — and people like me in particular — bear some blame here. This blog covered each of the stories above. By contrast, we wrote nothing about, say, the various ways that the candidates for president would deal with the threat posed by ISIS.
But, the press, I believe, is a reflection of who we are more broadly; human nature tends to seize on somewhat-trivial things rather than always engaging the serious — and often depressing — conversations about the future of our country and our world.
Facebook, the social-media site on which we increasingly live and which functions as a mirror we hold up to ourselves, provides evidence of these tendencies. This morning, I checked to see what stories were "trending" — that is, what were the news items that people were sharing most often. Here's what it looked like:
Paris. The controversy over the resignation of the president at the University of Missouri amid allegations of racial insensitivity. And, a see-through top that supermodel Chrissy Teigen wore to an event in Hollywood. So...
Our ability to focus on Chrissy Teigen or Donald Trump's antics in Iowa are, in their own way, a luxury. Thank god there is not an attack like the one in Paris every single day. Horrific events like these are not yet commonplace and so we are able to put them in the back of our mind at times. Focusing on the frivolous can be a coping mechanism in an increasingly unpredictable and anxiety-filled world.
And, that's okay. We can be forgiven for not always taking everything so very seriously — including, and maybe especially, politics. But, it's also critical to remember that for all of the minutiae that will draw our attention between now and next November, there are real consequences — at the domestic and the international level — for who we pick as our next president. Paris reminds us.