It only encourages them?
March 19, 2016 25 Comments
Neo is not the only one among us who, contemplating the political scene, wonders whether there’s a point blogging about it. The rhetoric on all sides has become as toxic as the feelings which seem to prompt it. We seem to have forgotten that of all the things which make life worthwhile, and of all the things which add to the sum of human happiness, politics is among the least; it is meant to be a means to an end – not an end in itself. When you have professional politicians, you must expect them to disagree – to them it is their life. But there is no use our protesting ‘attack ads’ when we cheer those from ‘our side’ whilst condemning those from the ‘other side’. If you forget you are all Americans, you risk forgetting what matters most.
For a Brit, watching American political ads is an odd experience. UK law does not allow you to make stuff up for the purpose of smearing your opponents and then to broadcast it 24/7. It may be a restriction on free speech, but it is also a bulwark against cheap speech. Lest we forget, words are the coin in which politicians pay their tribute to ‘we the people’; we could do so much more by way of ensuring that those words were worth the paper they often, nowadays, were never written on in the same place. Decent people should be ashamed of politicians who need to talk about the size of their male organs in public; they should be ashamed of those who brazenly lie and call it ‘misspeaking’ – but if ‘we the people’ applaud like fans at a ball game, then the politicos will carry on doing it. They are not stupid, nor are they advised by stupid people – they do these things because the pollsters tell them it is worth spending millions of dollars lying; then we wonder why, once in office, we find we cannot trust them? We have shown we can be bought cheap, so we shall be sold cheap, too.
It has always been the case that in making a speech, politicians think that they have solved a problem when, at best, they have drawn attention to it. We have had much soaring rhetoric – and too little by way of delivery. But then we are an impatient and fickle people. Of course politicians will not admit to failure, because they know they will be attacked; so they get their retaliation in first. They over-promise because, it they don’t, the other guy will – and we’ll buy what the other guy is selling – even if it is a nine dollar bill in reality. If we act like magpies in the presence of shiny things when politicians promise them to us, they will continue to do so – and the more they do it, the more devalued the word becomes. If ‘my word is my bond’, then there are a lot of junk bonds out there peddled by junk politicians to junk voters.
Sure, we are angry. Sure, when politicians are so ready to claim they can solve all our ills, we are equally ready to blame them for their failure. We condemn the growth of a ‘victim culture’ – and play the victim ourselves. It isn’t, we say, our fault that we have politicians who devalue the currency of words and treat us like idiots – well, since ‘we the people’ are the electorate, it is hard to see who else could be to blame. These spin doctors respond to what their focus groups tell them will work; clearly no focus group says honesty will work. Yet, and I say this as a non-partisan, surely at least part of the reason that ‘the Donald’ and ‘the Bern’ have pulled in votes is that there is one authentic and honest thing in what they say – that is the authentic note of anger felt by an America which feels betrayed, which feels it is getting lost and left behind. Well, if y’all really are mad as hell and won’t take it any more – prove it – stop voting for these people, it clearly only encourages them. What would they do then? Who knows, but it might be interesting to see.
We have, said a very great President, nothing to fear but fear itself. We can all blame the other lot for the state of the nation’s politics – it sure is easier than blaming the people who vote for them. If we will not be true to our values and the things that matter, or if we don’t think that ‘we the people’ have enough in common in terms of values, then that union which was established on these shores to defend life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, will dissolve – and it might be that we lose so much more than we can see.