We’re finding enjoyment in politics again, at least for the moment. It may be a defense mechanism, a form of nervous mental laughter, or a “laugh or go crazy” response to institutionalized idiocy, but if you squint your eyes and look at it kind of sideways, politics can be funny.
For the longest time we thought we were repulsed by politics. It does smell funny quite often, but we’ve had a kind of epiphany recently. It’s not actually politics, itself, that we find so repulsive. Politics is just a means to an end, a natural consequence of human nature. In other words, politics is unavoidable. No, what bothers us today, though we are trying to learn to laugh at it as well, is partisanship, the kind that makes us prejudiced in favor of one thing over another; the kind that becomes a filter through which we perceive reality.
So, are you a conservative or a liberal? Have you stopped beating your horse, yes or no? I don’t have a horse! Answer the question! And what is your view on global warming? On immigration? Gun control? Abortion? Your answers should be consistent with your political party, and the future of civilization is at stake. If you can’t answer quickly enough, you may have been hacked by a Russian.
Let’s approach this from a different angle. Tell us what you believe needs to be banned and we will guess your political affiliation. Do you want guns to be banned, or abortions? Cigarettes or jumbo-sized soft drinks? Do conservatives or liberals do a better job of telling other people what to do with their lives? Do drone strikes or cruise missiles do a better job of killing civilians in oil-rich countries?
Partisanship may also be unavoidable. People think differently, and not just because of how they were educated (or not), or how they choose to think, but because our brains are wired differently. The brains of partisan conservatives are different than those of partisan liberals.
Curiously, we all seemed to get along much better in the past, despite our partisan brains. We still disagreed on some things, like Vietnam and Prohibition, but we agreed on a lot more. We had a sense of self, as a nation, and we generally agreed on the direction we thought the country was moving.
This was before the Internet, that great enabler of confirmation bias, and the age of constant connectivity. Information is a powerful tool, and when it is properly wielded by a practiced hand, it can cleave us at our natural divisions like a maul hitting the sweet spot on a round of seasoned firewood.
So some of this hyper-partisanship is natural, but most of it is manipulated, and our hearts and minds are collateral damage in the neverending struggle for power that plays out through our constant connectivity in a campaign that never ends. (If you’re new to this conversation, we have long ago abandoned the notion that corporate news and infotainment entities are unbiased observers of the human condition.)
Nevertheless, we have grown weary of political partisans. We are prejudiced against them. We stereotype them and tell jokes about them behind their backs. “How many partisans does it take to screw in a light bulb?” (Nobody knows because neither side has the votes and the candle lobby has started a filibuster.)
If you have read this column long enough you already know that we’re referring mainly to democrats and republicans or, if you prefer, conservatives and liberals, but it’s easier to say “partisan,” and the word goes directly to the root of the problem.
So where is the humor in the current continuous 24 hour cycle of broken news and political crisis? Get ready to feast on a course of delicious irony.
Remember a few short years ago when Bill Clinton, accused of rape and sexual misconduct by multiple women, lied to a grand jury about his affair with Monica Lewinsky and was impeached, but not removed from office? (Ancient history to some.) Conservatives, in a firestorm of righteous indignation, condemned the moral turpitude of the president. Liberals defended him. The job is demanding and he was just letting off steam. It had no effect on his ability to govern. His policies and the important mission of the Democrat party were more important than the moral character of the president.
Now the current president, accused of rape and sexual misconduct by multiple women, has publicly denied (as adamantly, though perhaps not as eloquently as Bill Clinton did) any wrongdoing. Liberals, smelling blood and hoping to accelerate their return to power, are attacking the president in a firestorm of righteous indignation, condemning his alleged moral turpitude. Conservatives, now on the defensive, point out that Trump’s character has no bearing on his ability to govern. They insist that the policies and the important mission of the Republican party are more important than the moral character of the president.
Howls of derisive laughter. You can’t make this stuff up. This is seriously funny material. It’s funny because we laugh at other people’s discomfort, especially people we don’t like. It’s funny because the situation, the reversal of roles and the hypocrisy, are rich in irony. It’s serious because it is one more swing at the sweet spot where we are prone to divide.