Don’t let ‘em know what you’re
Against or what you’re for.
–Aaron Burr in the musical “Hamilton”
No we are not saying that politics is “entertaining,” we are saying that it is entertainment, nothing less and certainly nothing more unfortunately. “Mr. Trump, having rocketed to the top of opinion polls after insulting immigrants (Mexicans, especially) and veterans (John McCain, specifically), will dominate the spotlight at the Cleveland debate [August 6, 2015].”
Is the American voter too stupid to realize how ridiculous political candidates appear in their extreme antics designed to get attention (and donations)? No, not really. They just want to be distracted from their existential anxiety, their pain and suffering. The presidential campaign acts as a kind of Circus Maximus to keep the minds of the plebeians preoccupied while the oligarchs continue to amass power and control. Voters are too unconscious to realize that they are playing a key role in the decline and fall of the American Empire.
Or as Joseph W. McQuaid, publisher of the Union Leader newspaper in New Hampshire said in an email, “Trump’s base is more the people who use to have season tickets to the Roman Colosseum. Not sure that they vote in great numbers, but they like blood sport.”
How does Donald Trump get away with his pathetic persona and not only confound the rational American voter but float to number one in the Republican presidential primary polls (August 2015). Maybe it’s because it is dangerous to pretend to be a real politician and attack the “headliner” of the vaudeville show that passes for the presidential nominating race. “Former Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, whose sharp critique of Mr. Trump last month as a ‘cancer on conservatism’ may have cost him a place in the main debate, repeated that Mr. Trump, the real estate mogul and former reality star, was running on his celebrity, not policies.”
Policies? What have policies to do with entertainment? And speaking the truth? The truth has no place in politics. No self-respecting and wily politician would be naïve enough to try it as our lead-in musical lyrics makes clear. Politics is about illusion not reality.
We shouldn’t pile on The Donald when he is not the only actor on the stage trying to win an Oscar. Paul Krugman affirms that success in politics, especially in the Republican Party of the 21st century, requires a kind of “theatre of the absurd” performance from all of those on stage. “For while it’s true that Mr. Trump is fundamentally an absurd figure, so are his rivals. If you pay attention to what any one of them is actually saying, as opposed to how he says it, you discover incoherence and extremism every bit as bad as anything Mr. Trump has to offer. And that’s not an accident: Talking nonsense is what you have to do to get anywhere in today’s Republican Party.”
Candidates from both political parties engage in pandering. In fact they do little else because it works. Pandering works! The dictionary tells us that a panderer is one who caters to the lower tastes and desires of others or exploits their weaknesses. Pandering just happens to be entertaining as well as an effective way to win elections.
The American voter is not stupid, but they may be bewildered at times. “We now utterly conflate entertainment and politics, routinely confuse celebrity with authority and regularly lose sight of the difference between a cult of personality and a claim to leadership.”
Television is tailor-made for pandering and short sound bites. “We journalists [confesses Frank Bruni] bear a special blame for him [Trump], because bit by bit, year by year, we turned up the heat, intensifying our demand for conflict, for crackups, for anything that could be distilled to 90 seconds on television, six swaggering paragraphs on a website or 140 characters in a spirited tweet.”
And, of course, would-be presidential aspirants are not thinking seriously about policies even if they know what the problems facing America are (which they don’t). “Or to put it another way, modern Republican politicians can’t be serious—not if they want to win primaries and have any future within the party. Crank economics, crank science, crank foreign policy are all necessary parts of a candidate’s resume.”
Does that mean then that those aspiring to lead the nation in the Democratic Party offer better solutions for the pain and suffering of the American voter? Sadly no! And they are much less entertaining.
References and notes are available for this essay.
Find a much more in-depth discussion on this blog and in printed books by Roy Charles Henry.