We’re Living Through The Morton Downey Jr. Presidency

morton downey jr with american flagThese are odd times.

Regardless of which party you support, we can all agree that politics as usual has been upended in Washington and in many parts of the country. Voters have thrown surprising levels of support to complete outsiders (Donald Trump) or fringe figures (Bernie Sanders) who had never before been taken seriously as political forces.

A serious problem with today’s political climate, however, is the amount of rage which drives the conversation, at the expense of realistic, detailed proposals to address serious issues. Donald Trump leads the way there, as he shows little interest in public policy debates on healthcare, taxes, or anything else, and only wants to be seen as “winning” by his supporters.

This all reminds me of an episode we’ve been through before, when a loudmouthed blowhard tore up behavioral norms and enjoyed huge success in the media.

For a while there, it looked like Morton Downey Jr. was going to take over the TV world.

The Morton Downey Jr. Show

For those of you who don’t remember, Morton Downey Jr. hosted a talk show in the late 1980’s which enjoyed a sensational run on syndicated TV. Downey broke all the rules regarding civility and decency on American television, and opened up new terrain for the likes of Jerry Springer and Maury Povich to explore.

He yelled, he berated those he disagreed with, he rolled up his sleeves and chain-smoked with abandon as his audience roared their approval and begged for more.

Just see for yourself:

So is this the path we’re heading down as a country?

Has civil discourse descended into the gutter, with political discussions forever breaking down like an audience fight at the Geraldo Rivera Show?

Perhaps not.

As flashy as Morton Downey Jr.’s rise was, his fall was swift and relatively quiet. The show’s run lasted just under two years, a blip on the radar of TV history, really. On the way down it was pushed out of the way by The Arsenio Hall Show, an utter reversal not just in terms of diversity but civility as well.

Sure, you can still find shows that link back to Downey’s style in various corners of the media market, which is a much broader and specialized business than it was 30 years ago. But it has fallen far from the heights it enjoyed back then.

There’s hope that just as TV viewers back then grew tired of the yelling and screaming, our American voters of today will begin to ask for leaders with adult solutions to adult problems.

Will the cheap thrill of rage politics wear off by the 2018 mid-terms? That’s the big question facing both parties over the next year.