Thursday, August 4, 2016

Certain Stupidity

I’m a living time machine. We all are, actually. As the years go by our life experiences somehow move from “current events” to entire chapters in history books. I recently spent time catching up on some long overdue magazine reading. Yes, magazines. I still subscribe to a handful. It took a few hours to zip through some of the lifestyle rags. “The Week” is the news magazine that should be quick to get through as most of the articles are compilations of perspectives and reports from a variety of outlets. I find it a balanced way to capture the events of the week. I was behind so as I zipped through a few months’ worth I was reminded how much events of the past few months have changed what we collectively think.

I skim read a lot of the political coverage because I already knew the result. The horse-race coverage matters much less when the match is over. Even in the calm pages of “The Week” the hyperbolic frenetic activity of the 2016 Presidential Race was captured and reflected the majority of the coverage.

In February and March the commentary class went from “Mr. Trump is this amusing-but-bizarre creature” to “Holy Cow – people are voting for him” to the pre-convention coverage of a stunned recognition that one of America’s great political parties was now being run by what many consider a madman.

The Democratic side had its own narrative that was tolerant bemusement about an old man tilting at windmills who somehow surprised everybody by raising a ton of dough and was winning caucus after caucus. The post-Super-Tuesday view was sputtering outrage that this cranky old man couldn’t count and therefore couldn’t win and still wouldn’t drop out. The pre-convention coverage moved into skepticism that he ever believed in a democratic ideal in the first place.

The future is anybody’s guess. Sure it can be a well-educated guess, but it’s still a guess. Responsible citizens take time to learn about the issues, the candidates and then weigh the information against their own beliefs to come to a determination about whom they’ll support. This may be a “throwback” concept as with today’s avalanche of information cascading at us at the speed of light most are lucky to get clarity on what the candidates seem like they’ll be like and then hitching a wagon to that.

People are busy. The economic reality of today’s world is that most Americans are working longer hours for the same pay they had twenty years ago. The process of raising children is a gigantic undertaking – with there never being enough time to devote to family. The average person sees fivemovies a year and is able to find five or more hours a day to watch television. (Race and age change the average significantly.) It’s not that people don’t care about politics or the nation – I just think the space that it can occupy in most people’s lives is small because the bulk of their lives are all about getting through the drudgery of life only to watch something that takes them away from that same reality.

Thirty-second ads, pithy memes, simple narratives that take root work in this situation. People are fine tuned to being entertained and are consuming gigantic amounts of content thru various devices. Moving and framing politics as entertainment has been happening for a long time. It becomes easy, then, to decide whom to support. How somebody appears versus what they say or stand for becomes the measurement. It’s not rigorous. It’s not researched. It’s instinctive based on the screen. We are emotionally convinced of our decision.

Thinking less conventionally then, it may be that Mr. Trump might not be the evil dictator he portrays. Mrs. Clinton might not be the lying hypocrite she portrays. They each might have some good in them and might be more than their images. Such thinking won’t change my vote or likely anybody else’s – because we know what they’re like...we’ve seen it with our own eyes. William Falk, the editor-in-chief of “The Week” captured this feeling best in a recent editorial. He said: “Certainty is making us stupid.”

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