Just what is wrong with us?
And by “us,” I’m referring to the more compassionate, progressive and truly populist (not the kind practiced by demagogues and political pirates) side of our national electorate — or the Democratic party, which by default is the party that espouses some version of such values.
As I watched the fallout from the most recent Democratic presidential debate, I was struck by how firmly we seem to be locked into a forever-loop of high drama and fervent hopefulness in assessing candidates for the highest office in the land, even as we insist that the candidates be perfect in every way and able to instantly come up with plans that will solve everything once they’re elected.
Such delusional insistence is a guarantee for disappointment, as we saw with the election of President Barack Obama in 2008.
Obama, thanks to his intelligence, his speaking abilities and his left-leaning politics seemed to many of us to be an answer to our political prayers, though in the end he failed to live up to that promise for many reasons.
Of course, it didn’t hurt his election chances that his opponent, the late Republican U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona, seemed to lose his marbles momentarily during the race and named former Alaskan Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate.
As Palin’s vacuous mental state and ignorance about nearly everything became more and more clear, the electorate went with Obama despite the racist rumblings from Republicans and the extreme right wing of our benighted country.
The resulting outburst of racist rants and acts are by now legendary, and perhaps none were more blatant and outrageous than the 2010 incident on the steps of the U.S. Capitol when a rabid Tea Party protester spat on U.S. Congressman John Lewis as he walked past an angry mob gathered to protest the proposed Affordable Care Act, Obama’s signature legislation that was poised for adoption at that point.
Anyway, back to our delusional demands of perfection on the part of our candidates.
Throughout the aftermath of the latest Democratic debate, commentators, one after another, lamented that not one candidate had risen above the rest and “won” the debate, as if it were a competitive exercise on a reality television show.
That comparison, naturally, leads to consideration of our current president, whose popularity (if it can be called by such a moniker) stems largely from his work as a reality TV host on the show “The Apprentice.”
On that show (which I never watched on purpose, though I often caught broadcast clips of his performances of his more outrageous pronouncements), Donald Trump learned a lot of things, but mostly he realized that outrageous acts and language were not only perfectly acceptable, they were outright demanded by his viewing audience.
Once he seized on the idea of running for president, Trump naturally put his TV triumphs at the top of his strategy, presuming that what worked for “The Apprentice” would work just as well in the election campaign.
He was proven correct, of course, as the most racist, xenophobic, misogynist segment of our electorate responded wholeheartedly and loudly, probably in as much of a reaction against the Obama presidency as a validation of anything Trump might say or do.
And that is the standard by which we now, apparently, judge all candidates. If someone running for office cannot titillate us with his or her words and persona, too many of us deem them somehow a failure, or at least not worthy of trust and support — at least, not until they do come up with some leftist version of Trump’s nasty, intolerant and basically anti-human rhetoric.
The national media, unfortunately, seem to validate this kind of thinking, as they rush from one political scoop to the next and search pantingly for the same kind of vitriol and condemnation as Trump has given us.
This is a betrayal of our basic duty as voting citizens, which is to carefully examine the candidates, their proposals and philosophy on our way to deciding which of them should get our vote.
Part of the problem, of course, is the fact that our educational system has been grindingly diminished by years of government neglect, most determinedly by Republican politicians who understand that a smarter electorate would spell doom for the party, which is unabashedly in favor of destroying government and privatizing our education system.
The outcome, if not the intent, has been to reduce our schools to the level of factories cranking out docile and compliant workers rather than thoughtful, rational citizens with all the tools needed to properly exercise the electoral franchise. Not all schools have fallen prey to this systematic degradation (our schools in the valley, for instance, seem to still be pretty good).
But too many have gone down the rathole, nationally speaking, and this dumbing down of America has given us today’s political reality, under which the populace seeks emotional gratification rather than education, spectacle instead of substance, and easily digested soundbites rather than well-considered explanations of the complex and difficult questions we face as a nation.
Overcoming these obstacles is not easy, but it’s necessary, if we are to pull ourselves out of the awful tailspin that has this country in its grip.
Or are we simply too dumb, or too numb, to cope with all this?
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