This election, if you can't defend your actions, just accuse others

For much of the four years I covered the conflict in Bosnia, the guys whom we caught burning down villages, looting, smacking around women and the elderly, and terrorizing children would always be furious when we showed up.

“Why do you write about us?” they often spat, displaying a much wider and pointed fluency in English than will be repeated here. “The other guys are doing the same things.”

“Yes, they probably are,” we would say. “But you got caught, so we are writing about you.”

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For centuries, “blame it on the other guy” has been a mantra of politics, sports, business, relationships — in fact, most aspects of life.


The old admonition of “if you can’t anything good about someone, be silent” has been turned on it head: now, if you, cannot say anything positive about your position or defend your words or actions, accuse the other person.

Yet there are times when standing up for what you have done, being clear on what you hope to accomplish and acknowledging where you made a mistake should count. It should matter.

For the most important job in the world, that of president of the United States, it does count and matter. This election — for the most part, a sordid late-night movie offering with casts of characters that even defy central casting — has given the bullyboys of Bosnia a run at finger-pointing and evasion.

Just when we need someone to step up as the 2016 campaign comes to an end, we are all falling down. The country is likely to follow.

In the presidential debates and on the campaign trail, the nominees of the two largest parties have shed even the pretense of offering an agenda for the future, ideas on how to get the country out of its various messes, or surprising citizens with a new, captivating idea.

Their vitriol has exceeded anything in recent presidential politics.

Worse yet, the red-meat discourse has opened the floodgates to the hatred that apparently has been waiting for this moment.

And, of course, “Why do you write about us?” has become a routine complaint. (Of course, in the primary, the complaint was “Why do you write about him or her and not us?”)

Here, the sides find common ground. Both point to the media as being unfair, a tactic well-honed around the world when those seeking power have a paucity of positions.

In the second debate, it took a citizen sitting in the audience to squeeze in a question about civility. Surprise of surprise, both candidates rose to the challenge and managed to say something nice about the other.

Thank goodness.

But aside from that respite, this has been an election year when, each time someone ponders aloud, What could happen next?, something does. Even the finger-pointing has reached new levels. Now the additional bursts of “he said, she said” have joined the choir.

Facts provoke the most pushback. Confronted with true, clear facts, there is almost never an acknowledgment. Instead, there is the quick pivot — again, pointing out the other person’s faults.

The damage has been done. The cauldron of hatred, envy, greed, jealously, racism and sexism — once checked by laws, pubic weight, good manners and a willingness to listen with an open mind — is bubbling furiously.

I met current Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonWhite House accuses Biden of pushing ‘conspiracy theories’ with Trump election claim Biden courts younger voters — who have been a weakness Trayvon Martin’s mother Sybrina Fulton qualifies to run for county commissioner in Florida MORE in 1987, sitting next to her for an hour as her husband, then the governor of Arkansas, addressed the National Press Club.

We had a delightful conversation, mostly about how to improve education in our country. It has been almost 20 years of watching her make good on some of those areas she outlined that day. She and her husband have always been professional with me and often funny.

I met current Republican nominee Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpSenate advances public lands bill in late-night vote Warren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases Esper orders ‘After Action Review’ of National Guard’s role in protests MORE in 1999 when he was teasing about seeking the Reform Party presidential nomination. My interview with him in Trump Towers was to be 30 minutes, but because I actually stumped him with the first question and he was at a loss for words — imagine that! — I was invited to stay longer.

So I remained for 90 minutes. The only interruption was a quick pop-in hello to him from the young daughter of a friend; her name was Paris Hilton. He offered to make me White House press secretary if he won. I interviewed him in the years that followed and he has always been generous with his time, of good cheer, and has asked about my family and gave good copy.

I’ve covered them both.

I liked them better before.

“Why do you write about us?” I ask myself the same question, but for different reasons.

Squitieri is an award-winning reporter and communications veteran and an adjunct professor at American University and Washington and Jefferson College.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.