Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Idiocracy

“The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.” ― Winston S. Churchill 

Does peak stupidity exist, or will people find ways to accelerate idiocracy to ever-increasing heights? 

It is impossible to write about politics in a semi-normal way today. It's true epithets and crassness have always existed in politics. Margaret Thatcher had to contend with chants of "Margaret Thatcher, milk snatcher" when she cut welfare spending. Reagan was derided as nothing more than an actor. Yet, one still had admit some level of intelligence behind the criticism. It takes wit to rhyme Thatcher with anything mellifluous, and it managed to impart essential information as well: this particular party was cutting welfare to prioritize other spending. 

Such criticism starts the hidden clock behind all political calculations. If Thatcher cut welfare but failed to lower unemployment, at some point, she would appear incompetent. Cutting or reforming welfare benefits without a net positive result in the overall economy is monstrous for obvious reasons. Liberals understood this and planned their attacks accordingly. Conservatives knew they had to produce results because they lacked the touchy-feely platform of the liberals, and stepped up or lost power. The accusatory dance never seemed to end, but it was an unappreciated form of checks and balances: sometimes sentiment is favorable, sometimes an economy needs a firm hand, and democracy assumes voters can be trusted to know which style should lead and when. 

Speaking of conservatives and results, Barry Goldwater--a sincere, intelligent politician--was seen as so radical, he repelled American voters, losing in a landslide.  Yet, he was savvy enough to attract none other than Hillary Clinton: "I was also an active Young Republican and, later, a Goldwater girl, right down to my cowgirl outfit and straw cowboy hat... I liked Senator Goldwater because he was a rugged individualist who swam against the political tide." 

Irony of all ironies, Hillary lost the presidential election to a rugged individualist who not only swam against the political mainstream, but bazookaed it on the way to the White House. 

Meanwhile, voters slowly began to realize--or should have realized--central banks, bondholders, and the military create more policy behind the scenes than anything they would ever see on a ballot. If a firm hand was needed on the dance card to create a soft landing from 2002 to 2008, voters had no options--they could do nothing to influence Alan Greenspan or the independent Federal Reserve. Ron Paul's arguments to abolish the Fed make more sense in this democratic context, but once any entity holds trillions of dollars in debt, everyone realizes the debt will never be paid off completely, and the entire game changes.  

So yes, something feels different today in politics, but every single commentator and philosopher predicts the end of civilization every twenty or so years, and the wheels keep churning, so writers find it imprudent to sound the alarms. 

And yet, something does feel different this time. Since the dawn of television, optics over substance has been with us. JFK was derided as a pretty face but beat Nixon in part because female voters found him handsome. Had he run for office when only the radio existed, his higher-pitched voice may not have bested the deeper, more measured Nixonian sound. Canada's Justin Trudeau certainly continues the JFK dynamic. 

When Hillary supporters argue misogyny caused her loss, they fail to account for their nominee's anti-JFK momentum: no charisma, no youth, no idealism, and--dare I say it--no sexuality. (Had Hillary's campaign "leaked" a few photos of her frolicking on the beach with a 30 year-old Cuban male model, she may have won. Think about it--which of her existing supporters would have switched their votes or stayed home post-disclosure?) 

If politics mirrors society, thereby shining a light into voters' minds, does the pessimist have evidence today's politics--and people--are more corrosive than ever before? When I watched the debates, I heard not one inspiring sentence from Hillary--or Trump. Even now, after Trump's many opportunities to speak, not a single memorable sentence comes to mind. I know Hillary would have been no different. (By the way, much of the gender pay gap can be attributed to the unequal pay and gender composition of CEOs and other high-ranking executives. Most CEOs are male and the gap between their compensation and average employees' pay has grown dramatically over time. The key to solving the gender pay gap is to pay CEOs less or figure out how to get more women promoted into the highest paying management jobs. You won't hear this common sense approach from any politician in office because it won't get as many votes as a more divisive policy. Besides, how could your supporters sell t-shirts with faddish slogans if politicians used common sense?) 

Americans don't tolerate idiots in office just because they're entertaining. It's because once in a while, they inspire us, and we suspect the chaos they deal with is a crucible that produces something other than sheer crass. Thus far, aside from Justin Trudeau's media ops with Syrian refugees, 2017's politics have produced no semblance of Vaclav Havel's wisdom or inspirational moments. Peace in the Middle East isn't nearer on the horizon. Space travel is being handled mainly by billionaires while NASA is reduced to begging for more government funding (its GPS-based maps are quite useful, though). Water management worldwide seems to lack any cohesive plan, and we are told every year that American aquifers continue to be in dismal shapeAnti-poverty efforts have benefited more from developed nations outsourcing manufacturing than anything government has done. 

In short, the number of wins assigned to the government's side of ledger over the past 5 to 15 years is nil. K-12 education is in worse shape, unless you live in a district with very expensive homes or win a charter school lottery. University tuition continues to increase much higher than the overall inflation rate, and parents are told to budget for 5 to 6 years because students may not get the classes they need in 4 years. Police brutality has always been with us, but the lack of accountability when unnecessary and excessive violence is captured on film, especially against teenagers and unarmed minorities, has shocked many Americans. Meanwhile my local "bullet" train was built in the 1980s and is slower than a car unless taken at a specific time. 

Even on smaller issues, the government has proven untrustworthy with taxpayer funds: there are fewer blue P.O. boxes available, reducing convenience as well as required personnel time, but the USPS deficit continues unabated. Many liberals will argue the solution is to reward incompetence with more taxpayer funds, without realizing most voters' taxes have already increased year over year, and accountability and responsiveness haven't improved. To sum up, former politicians have made so many promises to existing interest groups, higher taxes simply sustain the status quo rather than assist new ideas or the general public. 

A government that fails to make education useful and affordable; fails to institute accountability in police departments; and fails to improve infrastructure while increasing taxes and reducing services is bound to be viewed with contempt. Welcome to America in 2017. 

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