“Us” And “Them”
Contemplate the political situation in this country long enough and it’s hard not to reach the conclusion that our problems are social rather than political. Regardless of whether one believes that the 2004 election was “free and fair”, there is no denying that millions of people that had no business at all voting for Bush, went into the booth and intentionally cast a ballot for this wealthy, elitist ass anyway. That is not a political problem, that kind of irrational behavior has roots that are deeper than slogans, platforms and candidates.
There is no earthly reason for a poor person to vote for a Republican. The fact that so many do, particularly those living in rural areas, speaks volumes about the sorry state of the Democratic Party. I’m not sure if the Democrats’ inability to cash in on Republican missteps is a function of their unwillingness to use language in order to manipulate the masses or rather a deep lack of understanding of the people they should be courting. High-mindedness is fine, but lacking the ability to speak to the issues that matter most to the average American is unforgivable. The Democrats talk a lot, but they don’t ever seem to listen.
We, the people, have become nothing more than targets for marketing, by ad agencies, corporations and political parties. Language is manipulated to evoke emotions that make us feel good about what is being put in front of us, and more and more, we are being marketed to on an individual rather than collective basis. This fosters the idea that what we want trumps what is good for society as a whole, the fact that politicians are now figuring out ways to further exploit this idea will only make things much worse.
When politicians can tailor their message to small groups of people, by means of narrowcasting as opposed to broadcasting, they can gain support from very different segments of society without connecting one to the other. If a candidate can say to the white, male, truck-driving crowd that he/she supports gun ownership, is deeply religious and wants to protect the sanctity of marriage and at the same time send the message to urban liberals that supporting civil rights, gay rights, gun control and separation of church and state are his/her main concerns, what kind of society does that build? It allows politicians to gain broad based support without having a broad based agenda. The fact that we prefer our individual desires to be appealed to without ever attempting to reach a consensus, is a social problem that is well on its way to driving us further and further from one another while alienating us from our government.
Our problem is social in that we shun community and refuse to make concessions for the collective good. Hell, we even refuse to engage in the conversation. We let politicians and the media drive wedges between us that only serve to foster animosity between rural and urban, white and black, gay and straight, liberal and conservative, and these divisions are reinforced by a marketing strategy employed by those who want our money and our votes. This marketing of products and ideas only validates our selfishness and destroys any chance for a country made whole.
We are becoming more and more entrenched in partisan politics because we have fallen victim to the predators that think by building us up, they can bilk us out of our meager holdings. By believing the hype and not questioning our emotional responses to the hallow words they shower upon us, we have allowed for language to be stripped of meaning. There are no longer agreed upon definitions of words and facts have become subjective. A perfect example is the so-called “death tax”. There is no such thing as a “death tax” because not everyone who dies is subject to it, only those with an “estate” worth more than $1,000,000 are required to pay it, making “estate tax” the proper description. When we let these distortions of language slip by, we erode the value of public discourse and strip words of their meaning.
An educated public makes for a better society. The more we know, the better able we are to make good decisions. We all understand this, but where do these truths leave us? Our educational system is in shambles, we don’t understand our own language and we are grouping off into likeminded enclaves that only reinforce our worldview and make consensus all but impossible. We liberals tend to think that the rural “under-educated” “red-state” voters are the only ones who have much to learn and if we can just educate them, they will automatically be moved to join our side. But what about what they have to teach us?
Just as Democratic leaders should spend more time listening to their base, perhaps we too would be better served if we listened to those we want to help and bring into the fold, rather than allowing our preconceived notions about them to cloud our judgment. It is far more likely that rural folks have a better idea about how to fix the problems they face that are unique to their situation than we do. A conversation is speaking and hearing. Without the listening component, it’s just a speech, sermon or worse, a tirade. Conversation will yield ideas, where speeches will only further divide us. What if we aimed our tirades at the politicians and worked to foster true communication amongst ourselves and turn the “us” blue state liberals and “them” red state conservatives into “us” the people and “them” the politicians? Doing so would be good for us and bad for them, reason enough to give it a shot.