It’s Monday morning and a good cup of coffee is a welcome treat in the cold rain. Congress says that this is Veteran’s Day, but we all know that the real observance is on the 11th. World War I ended one hundred years ago this eleventh month, on the eleventh day at the eleventh hour. Only 80 members of the incoming Congress, or about 16 percent, are veterans, so I’m not sure why the other 84 percent think that they should get an extra holiday.
But then Congress is good at looking after the concerns of Congress, voting itself pay raises, holidays and healthcare privileges, the reward, we presume, for providing us with so many, so very many laws and proclamations, and for the tireless effort to see who can redistribute the biggest share of our tax dollars to their own districts.
It’s tempting, sometimes, to join the largest segment of the US population which does not vote and appears to have little concern for political theater. We sympathize with their rejection of a forum which every year seems to more closely resemble professional wrestling, the main difference being that professional wrestlers are also professional athletes, while members of Congress need only money and popularity to qualify for their jobs.
In an effort to encourage more non-participants to vote, former First Lady, Michelle Obama, tells us that we don’t need any “special expertise” to vote, that we “don’t have to read every news article to be qualified to vote,” and that it’s OK to vote, even if we “know nothing about nothing.” I submit to you that this happens frequently enough without any further encouragement. It is precisely how, as Joseph de Maistre once said, a “nation gets the government it deserves.”
I’m pouring myself a second cup of coffee this morning to help disperse the grumpy reflections of a cold, rainy Monday morning. It’s never a good idea to start the day with a scan of corporate media headlines, which also seem to increasingly mimic professional wrestling jargon. It is of absolutely no benefit to me to know, especially first thing in the morning, who got “slammed,” “destroyed,” or “called out,” or who is “fighting” for what cause. I really didn’t need to know someone’s opinion, repeated over several tabloid websites, that Hillary is going to run again (this was an opinion, not yet a fact) and that we could have a repeat of 2016 with “Wrestlemania 2020.”
As the caffeine stimulates my memory, however, perspective begins to form. Politics has always been ugly. My own family history underlines this fact, and I can still hear my father telling the story of how he was voted in three different precincts in an election without ever setting foot in the county, and how he lost his student deferral during WWII because his father “voted wrong” in a local contest.
The “McCarthy years” are now forgotten to all but a small group of history students and people with good memories. Those who lived through the turmoil of the late sixties appear to have forgotten that as well, when we hear repeatedly that the country has “never been so divided.” Civil War historians are among the first to scoff at this statement.
Yet there is generally a strong sense that somehow, things are different this time. There is anger, suspicion and unrest, and at the root of it all there is fear, which makes people positional and cuts off any meaningful dialogue with opposing views. Granted, there is nothing new in our experience of fear or in its use as a tool of manipulation. But I submit to you that what is different “this time,” is technology.
Remember, we are wired to accentuate the negative. This is a survival mechanism and it takes conscious effort to overcome it, but we are so drawn to the negative that the survival of the businesses which dispense information is dependent on negativity to capture and hold our attention.
This is how politics has come to dominate the public discourse, even reaching into our private lives and personal relationships where all things are judged by this false dichotomy of left and right. Politics has always been ugly, but technology illuminates what was once hidden and makes immediate what was once gradually revealed. Politics is a sausage grinder, and technology is showing us all the gory details of how that sausage is made. We, who slow down to gawk at the scene of an accident, are mesmerized, horrified and addicted.
Perhaps in realizing that our fears are often magnified out of proportion by the processes we trust to inform our view of the world, we can begin to assuage those fears. If we’re going to have our sausage, it’s probably a good idea to know the list of ingredients in the mix, but watching a pig being slaughtered every morning at breakfast would certainly not improve our appetite or our digestion. Of course our vegetarian friends would tell us that we can endeavor to choose a healthier diet, and when it comes to politics, I can’t say that they are wrong.