Don't shirk civic duty during the lazy days of summer

Op-ed: Summer's lazy days don't absolve us of our duty to stay politically informed.

If Memorial Day marks the unofficial start of summer, a season for frivolity, it could also mean several months of postponing some serious decision-making as we focus on the great outdoors, crab feasts, family reunions and dream vacations.

Before we tune out, keep in mind that there is no more important decision facing us than who will become the next president of the United States. As we soak up the sun's rays, we cannot afford to take too much time off from soaking up as much information as possible.

Like many people who consider themselves well informed, I have done a lot of laughing at the expense of Donald Trump. I see the flip-flopping that calls into question whether even he listens to what he says from one setting to another. The late-night comedians are my go-to guys to affirm my sense of the absurdity of our situation six months before the election. But a sitcom, "The Carmichael Show," is growing on me, especially after it had fun with the presidential choices in Sunday's episode. The Carmichaels, for anyone unfamiliar with the ABC series, are a black family who — not unlike families in classics such as "All in the Family" and "The Cosby Show" — often tackle serious topics for laughs.

So here's Jerrod Carmichael on why a person's past experience is not the most important gauge of whether he should be president. "Ronald Reagan was an actor. He literally lied to people for a living, and we made him president. Obama was a community organizer and, if we're honest with ourselves, what the hell is that? George W. Bush — it was basically his first job. It's like his parents [said], 'You've got to get off the couch and do something,' and then he became president of the United States."

OK, that was kind of funny, as was comparing Hillary Clinton to a Toyota Camry because she is "so popular and so forgettable at the same time." But as President Barack Obama recently said, in a bid to bring candidates and electorate alike to our senses: "This is not entertainment. This is not a reality show. This is a contest for the presidency of the United States."

When Donald Trump speaks, I hear someone who talks like a bully and who gives white people — mainly men — the courage to let their inner-bullies emerge, training their malevolence on those they perceive as threats. I do not see myself having an easy time in a Trumped-up America. "Get 'em out of here," he yells at rallies when confronted with protesters. Those words seem aimed at me, though I have been nowhere near a political rally for any of the candidates.

"Get 'em out of here" coupled with "Let's take back our country" — another commonly heard longing he stirs in the hearts of his followers — sends chills up the spine of people who, like me, feel deliberately excluded. In Mr. Trump's new world order, we are anathema because of race, gender, nationality, religion, sexual identity or even because we actually believe that being intelligent and rational are positive attributes. In a Trumped-up America, those are liabilities.

With so much at stake, it is time for every eligible voter to wake up and studiously assess the candidates. Yes, that means doing a little homework, folks, but there is so much information available that no one can have the excuse, "I don't know enough to decide." For now, the choice comes down to this: A highly qualified public servant with a proven record who is being hammered for mishandling an email account while she was secretary of state. Or a mercurial pandering-to-the-haters businessman whose fellow Republicans have said is unqualified to hold the highest office in the land.

While he was running for president, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie told Fox News: "I just don't think that [Trump is] suited to be president of the United States. I don't think his temperament is suited for that and I don't think his experience is." Before ending his own presidential bid, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida repeatedly called Mr. Trump "a con man" who was "wholly unprepared to be president." Now Mr. Rubio is "honored" and Mr. Christie is "happy" to be on Mr. Trump's team. All of them are counting on the short attention span of the average American as they play us for fools.

Don't let the promise of warm days ahead lure you away from your civic duty. Summer will end soon enough.

E.R. Shipp, a Pulitzer Prize winner for commentary, is the journalist in residence at Morgan State University's School of Global Journalism and Communication. Her column runs every other Wednesday. Email: er.shipp@aol.com.

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