We won’t get fooled again.
I have to laugh, sort of helplessly, when someone tells me everything will be fine once their candidate takes office. (Or worse, that everything has been fine since their candidate took office.) That level of reality-evasion is just staggering. I can picture the party pollsters high-fiving and saying: holy crap, they bought it!
Here’s what your political hero spends his/her day concerned with: a polished image, a poll-tested “message”, a contrived series of sound-bites, bought and paid-for media releases, and a few resultant ticks on their poll numbers.
In other words, the business of seeming.
Seeming to care, seeming to fight the supposed “enemy”, seeming to be about the business of “doing good”.
All so you’ll buy what they’re selling.
It works. People, even intelligent people, get fooled again and again, as though no one ever heard the song.
We get taken in by what are essentially career actors paid to smile at the cameras, shake hands with “important” people, and deliver sweetly-worded speeches that tell us exactly what we want to hear. Of course, deep down, we know it’s all a carefully-crafted smokescreen to cover up what is at worst treachery, what is most often nothing but simple power-brokering, and what at best is shortsightedness combined with a shocking ignorance of cause and effect.
But we’re pretty good at ignoring those deep down voices, aren’t we?
We go on buying it. When we’re inevitably disappointed, we believe the next round of candidates will help us and fight for us and make the world a better place.
It’s amazing, if you think about it. These people are so good at marketing you’ll ignore or dismiss decades of counter-evidence. I could understand it, say, fifty years ago. But how does any thinking adult post-Nixon, with the information we have at our fingertips, manage to avoid the deluge of evidence, on a daily (hell, even hourly) basis, that politicians, as an entire species, are anything but empty shells with self-serving agendas and manicured public images?
The answer, of course, is simple: we want to believe otherwise. So we do.
Evidence is irrelevant. In a fight between facts and beliefs, beliefs win every time. History is not a series of revealed truths. It is a series trying to make our beliefs true and being corrected by failure. Until then, you’ll see the facts you want to see. Wanting is far more powerful.
Your political heroes know this. They make their living on your wanting.
But the truth remains, eating away at us. We know, on some level, we’re talking about a class of people that hasn’t the slightest concern for what is right or good, but only about what polls well.
We know this.
We know that their “expertise”, the particular service they perform for society, consists of telling us what we want to hear and making their opponents look like villains.
And… that’s it. That’s what we pay them to do. How smart are we?
We put our trust, the fate of millions, if not billions, in the hands of paid mouthpieces backed by marketing experts. And they, in turn, are backed by smiling gladhands with utterly different, sometimes insidious, agendas.
We know this, too.
So, when, as thinking people, do we acknowledge it? When do we start listening to those uncomfortable inner voices that whisper the truth at us every time we watch a debate or a press conference? When do we say, Okay, brain, I hear what you’re saying… this is a sham, a farce, a puppet show to enthrall the kiddies, and start coming up with real answers to society’s problems on our own?
You see, an attitude of cynicism in politics is well-earned. But it doesn’t apply to the rest of life. Answers are possible. I believe you and I can do more good before breakfast than three sitting presidents and twelve back-to-back congresses.
(And, even if we did nothing but stare at the wall, a hell of a lot less evil.)
Running for office must be a great racket, if you can stomach it. If you possess even a modicum of skill at manipulation, you could do pretty well for yourself. Every year the unthinking populace allocates a sizable percentage of their income and GDP to make it so. And that’s not even counting the hidden-room transactions.
For most of us, though, (thankfully) the idea turns our stomachs.
Do you know someone really good, someone who works hard and tries to provide for their family, who is struggling to make ends meet? If you could decide who got the emotional and financial support, them or your political hero, which would it be?
But we do decide. All the time.
The people thriving in office do so because we support them. We support the agenda-seekers and holders of the purse strings behind the scenes, too. Our brains might be screaming at us to do otherwise, or that it’s somebody else’s doing, but shutting off our brains has never been that difficult, has it? We listen to the talking heads telling us that “everything is swell” (or will be, once they overcome the villainous “other guys”) and we believe it because we want to.
Here’s an idea. Let’s do a little experiment: for one entire term of office, let’s turn the tables around. No office holder can say a word to us, but we can talk to them, and they have to listen.
We’ll call it a Moratorium on Seeming. A Show Me, Don’t Tell Me recess. No speeches, no debates, no press conferences. No performances of any kind. All they can do is act and hear what we think about their actions. They can collect their wages, but they can’t open their mouths to beg for financial support of any kind.
You see, if someone is motivated by what‘s right and true, they do what they do in spite overwhelming opposition. They do so, not for the cheering crowds, or the political favors, or the financial backing, but because it’s the moral thing to do. They don’t try to seem heroic. They just do the heroic thing, even if it means they are hated and opposed at every turn.
Sure, they’ll try to break the rules, but that’s fine.
When they turn toward the cameras, we let them go dark. When they turn away from the cameras, we turn them on and watch their every move.
When they want press coverage, we deny it. When they don’t want press coverage, we drown them in it.
When they have a manufactured message to release, they can stand on a box on the street corner, if they want. But when we have a message for them, it gets fed into ear buds they can’t remove from their heads.
If they give speeches, we let them hear crickets (especially at the audience-tested applause lines.) But if we have a speech for them, it plays so loud their ears bleed.
If they hold rallies or fund-raising events, no one shows up but the tumbleweeds. But when we hold rallies, we do it on their front lawns with megaphones and food trucks. (They want to provide the porta pottys, it’s up to them).
We unfriend them until they have zero social media followers. But we fill their inboxes, and they can’t unsubscribe our feeds.
If they so much as mention a party or any variation of the words “Us vs. Them” we smile and end the conversation right there. “Sorry, we’re too awake for all that nonsense, now,” we say. “You’re gonna have to come up with something new.”
We cancel any party memberships and form our own citizen groups. We withdraw all trade union support. We identify and boycott any corporate, media or financial string-pullers. We watch and smile as the near universally-maligned two-party system crumbles.
We watch their funds run short, and can’t help but laugh as they suddenly become misers of spending and absolute wizards of budgeting.
In short, we stop helping them seem. Today, there’s no such thing as politics without performance. So we remove the audience. We stop lining up, dollars in hand, every time they whip up a new batch of snake oil. We haven’t a care at all for their words, and we aren’t buying. Instead, for one term of office, we let their actions do their talking, and let them sink or swim accordingly. We make seeming a useless, dead art.
When they ask “What are we supposed to do??” we hand them instruction manuals on how to swim. “Read quick,” we say.
And we sit back and watch the rats leaving the ship.
Then we see who’s left.
And we know—destitute, hated and opposed, ostracized and surrounded by enemies, with no public image to hide behind—they just might be there to do some good.
Now wouldn’t that be something?