I watched the political conventions and the campaigns up to the conventions, and I wonder what has become of America the brand? We’re the land of freedom, free speech and opportunity for all. The leader of the free world. But this election year, it feels a little less like leadership and a little more like the country’s nudey pix just got leaked to the internet. It’s uncomfortable and fairly embarrassing.
Presidential election years are our time to shine in the global market, to show the world what we’re all about. In marketing terms, we refresh our messaging, relaunch our campaigns, and we get our story out to the world about who we are, what we stand for and why you should want to be part of this great country.
It’s like a brand new product launch every four years. And usually, as ugly as it is, I think it’s great. Sure the debates are painful and the campaigns treacherous, but that’s part of our story. You fight an honest fight (or at least semi-honest) until a victor emerges. We debate because we can. We argue because we have the right to do so. We disagree because that’s what makes us who we are and, generally speaking, we are better for it.
This election year, however, has been a little disheartening. I’m losing faith in the American brand. Debates have always skewed toward red herring issues instead of focusing on the real challenges facing this country. But so far, this year, the debates have focused on personalities rather than politics.
Of course, there are the obvious reasons for disillusionment. Donald Trump’s little hands and big dictatorial ways just make me sad. That’s not the type of person I want acting as my top brand ambassador. Call me crazy, I guess … or maybe European, since they seem to agree with me.
And although I wholeheartedly believe that he has the right to say whatever he wants to say and I do not put politicians on a pedestal, but what I do expect from the brand leader is civility. I expect respect for others. You can disagree or pummel someone for their political offerings, but don’t attack the way someone looks, how they dress or how they sound. At least not publicly. That is a sign of weakness to me. Not crying, not even being unsure of a decision shows the same kind of weakness for me. I have found in my lifetime the weakest people are the ones who attack others on a personal level. They have insecurities so deep that they generally stay in a mild, but easily escalated, fight or flight mode. And while I may at heart empathize with their insecurity, I don’t tolerate poor behavior or personal attacks. That is not the brand I support.
But this year has shown more frailties in the American brand beyond Trump. Bernie Sanders fought a very good fight, and I truly understand his supporters’ heartbreak. I do. I’ve been there many times myself. I wanted nothing more than Al Gore to be elected in 2000. It didn’t happen.
This year, however, further damage to the brand came in the form of bad sportsmanship. While I understand the disappointment of Sanders’s supporters, a good sport always accepts defeat gracefully. When I played sports as a child, you did everything you could to win the game. You put your heart and soul into it. But if you lost, you had to go shake the hand of the winning team and tell them good game. That’s part of the American brand to me. Be disappointed, but accept the fact that you did everything you could and now you have a new choice to make — vote Hillary, vote Trump, vote for a third party or independent, write in a name or don’t vote at all. But don’t attack the opponent because your candidate lost. In sports, you don’t get to stomp your feet on the sidelines and pout until they name you a winner. That’s not how the game is played, and that is not what our brand is about.
Also, as I watched the democratic convention, I saw a parade of survivors of unjust killings, terrorist attacks and political isolation. They were in full support of their candidate, but beyond that I saw a picture of a country that didn’t look so familiar to me any more. I saw a country sliding backwards instead of moving forwards. It wasn’t the brand I recognized.
And of course, there is the remaining fact that this country still has not elected a female president. I am concerned what the coming months will bring in terms of generalities made about women. I suspect it will further diminish the brand for me.
But the chance that a woman may finally be elected president is a glimmering hope at least for my idea of the American brand. Do I believe Hillary Clinton is perfect? I do not. But I never have nor will I ever think any political candidate is perfect. They are human, and there is no place for perfection in humanity. But as a female who has been told directly I would not get a promotion because of my gender, this election will tell me a lot about our brand. Are we truly equal in this country? Can we be whatever we want to be? Or not?
I can honestly say I did not realize how much that meant to me until I saw her stand on stage as the democratic candidate for president. I felt pride and dignity. I thought for a moment this may help rebuild our brand with the rest of the world – that there is some hope that we are an authentic brand and that we truly live the message that we sell to other nations.
I do not know how the election will go, but the results will likely solidify my opinion of America the brand. My hope is that we become less of a spectacle and something more spectacular, but I will have to wait and see.