Many of those reading this article remember The Gong Show. It ran on NBC from June 1976 to July 1978 and briefly reprised in the 1980s. It featured amateur talent, much of it rendering absurd humor. Three judges awarded ridiculous prizes to the least deplorable performance.
Ironically, The Gong Show was in some ways an unintended reflection of an era of uncertainty in America at the time.
In August 1974, President Gerald Ford declared the end of “our nation’s long national nightmare” after pardoning President Richard Nixon for his role in the Watergate Scandal fostered by Nixon’s paranoia over leaks during the latter phase of the Vietnam War. In April 1975, a massive North Vietnamese offensive performed the coup de gras for the Saigon regime birthed by Washington in 1955 and sustained through two decades of bloody civil war then relinquished like some prodigal child no longer deserving of forbearance. An Arab oil embargo in the wake of Washington’s support for Israel during the Yom Kippur War of October 1973 had tripled the cost of gasoline. By the late 1970s gas rationing and long lines at filling stations were part of the motoring scene. American-made automobiles were by 1978 smaller, less powerful, more expensive, and shoddily built. President Jimmy Carter advised the people to embrace limited expectations. It would be 1980 before Ronald Reagan rallied the country and the sun began to rise once more on American exceptionalism.
In 2016, unless the Democratic Party and the Republican Party conventions experience a few moments of temporary sanity, the electorate will be choosing between candidates with political acumen best suited for The Gong Show: a bumptious billionaire whose political rhetoric consists of name calling and a woman whose infamous claims to policy experience include blaming a video for the tragedy at Benghazi in September 2011. This year’s election will place an exclamation point on the end of American exceptionalism.
History, or what passes for it in this postmodern 21st century America, should mark 2016 as America’s “dimmest hour.” A year marked by the triumph of political asininity. How this nation, one that two generations ago led the world to triumph over demonic fascism in Europe and a cruel imperialism in Asia, then closed out the twentieth century with the dismantling of the Soviet Union’s evil empire, came to this point is something that should bring sane people to their knees.
Those few Americans who are still inclined to hit their knees in humble supplication to what hopefully remains a merciful God need to do so. Pray that by some miracle a leader will emerge over this summer. Someone with a strategic vision born of a grasp of history and stoked with faith in the Almighty God who blessed this country with resources and with citizens who struggled—sometimes gave their lives—to secure the blood-bought blessings of liberty and freedom. If so, as was the case in January 1981 when Ronald Reagan brought a new birth to America, the republic can survive—even thrive—once more.
Otherwise, The Gong Show Election of 2016 will give us an idiocrasy—and maybe we the people deserve it.
Dr. Earl Tilford is a military historian and fellow for the Middle East & terrorism with The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. From 1993 to 2001, he served as Director of Research at the U.S. Army’s Strategic Studies Institute.