As a citizenry, we are conflicted to our core.
We aspire to be a land of equals but we secretly want someone smarter, better, more enlightened to lead us. Someone ‘better’, someone ‘unequal’ (but in a good way). We want that individual, that leader, to be somehow the best of us. This secret wanting might merely be a cultural crossover and holdover from earlier historical times when what the population hoped for was a benevolent, philosopher king.
Or, it might be a Disney fantasy that we have had subliminally implanted.
In reality, what we have are ambitious people, people who manipulate others for their own purposes and who are, in turn, manipulated by other self-seeking special interest groups.
Still, we insist upon pretending that at the end of our campaign and election process, a pearl, rather than a turd, will emerge.
Our experience, over and over again, is that the people who run for office are either corrupted or co-opted before hand or they are compromised and co-opted by and through the election process.
In their public image, they present us with as squeaky clean a version of themselves and events as they can spin.
In candid and semi-private conversations, the politicians often plead for us to understand their world. They tell us that the ‘system’ wouldn’t work if it weren’t for the thousands of small compromises that get things done but that violate our trust. They tell us that the only way to make progress and move things along is with winks, nods and looking the other way. Trade offs, deals within deals, are the nuts and bolts of the real political world. One man’s corruption is another man’s opportunity. They tell us all this off the record. When we’re all being adults. When the children are out of the room watching the Disney movie they rented.
I’ve been involved in conversations like this. Most of the politicians I have spoken with have convinced themselves that they really are trying to do their very best in a messed up situation. In return, I have pointed out to them that when you decide to climb into the pig pen, it’s impossible not to get dirty. Remarkably, although the reference to a pig pen is a tad off putting, they have taken my statement to mean that I understood their situation. The conversation usually stops about then, with a touch of awkwardness.
We, the people, have a part that we’re playing in this dysfunctional charade. We play the part of the naively trusting. Election cycle after election cycle, we listen to what they tell us that’s wrong and what they’re going to do to fix it and we believe them. We vote with our fingers crossed and hope that they meant what they said. Then we turn our attention back to what’s going on in our own lives, naively thinking that we’ve done our part.
That’s what our politicians are counting on. They absolutely count on our short attention span. They make jokes about it amongst themselves, about how quickly our focus, as a populace, shifts. We bounce from issue to issue, from event to event, so quickly and so completely that there’s no need for those elected to enact change, to do anything, except to wait. They promise with bluster and gusto in one news cycle and then duck and wait for the spotlight of our attention to move during the next. Mere promises of action are sufficient. Then, the next headline, whether it’s legitimate or created as a diversion, will move the public’s eye elsewhere soon enough. Nothing need ever get done or changed.
They count on it.