This Is Why I Hate Politics

I was listening to Hillary's acceptance speech this morning on my iPhone, minding my own business and drinking my coffee, when my partner heard her voice and said, "God, I can't stand her."
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I was listening to Hillary's acceptance speech this morning on my iPhone, minding my own business and drinking my coffee, when my partner heard her voice and said, "God, I can't stand her."

"Why can't you stand her?"

"I don't trust her," said David.

"What's not to trust? She works like a dog." I could the heat beginning to rise. "She deserves everything she gets."

"She's a puppet."

"You think Bernie would be better? He'll break up the banks, overhaul health care, and get big money out of politics, right? Before breakfast? Like nothing else is going on in the world."

"That's an argument for the status quo."

"Hillary will get the job done."

"But nothing will change!"

I walked into my office and closed the door, but not before telling him that he's nuts. And that is how we started our day. There we were in our sunny kitchen, yelling at each other across an abyss - and all before 7 a.m. Defending our candidate angrily as if it made an actual difference. As if our opinions actually mattered.

This didn't start with this year's election. There's a long tradition of pugilism in politics, using public policy and public servants to amplify our own neuroses.

That's why, in many cafes in Europe, there are posted signs forbidding political conversation on the premises. Too many shattered windows and bloody napkins. Too much disturbing of the peace. Proprietors ask customers to check their politics at the door. Focus on the croque-monsieur.

The reason I hate politics is that politics pretends to be real - real in the sense of true - when it's really just theater, posture, and laugh track, a passing show of voracious egos straddling some genuine heart and compassion. Intelligence, too. The trouble is that emotions trump reason in matters of moral indignation. The reptilian response, based on emotion, overpowers intellect most every time. Moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt likens this dilemma to that of a little man (reason) strapped to the back of an elephant (emotion) and trying to control the bipolar pachyderm with a stick. This hardly ever works, the elephant wins, then we make up stories to rationalize why we act out in emotional ways. That is our human condition. We're hard-wired for kneejerk moral responses - gut reactions, mindless outrage - leaving the little man kicking his legs and helpless to stop the beast from stampeding. We're screaming before we realize we're mad. Buttons we didn't install get pushed and trounce us with their passionate intensity.

Politics is hateful because it preys on two demons: moral outrage and the lust for power. Most politicians go into the business for mostly good reasons, I'm sure, but the show must go on and their worthy intentions are compromised by the push for success because politics is a business first. It runs on the principles of business. Crushing. Maneuvering. Dissembling. Deceiving. And WINNING at most any cost (remove that word from the lexicon, and Donald Trump would collapse like a house of cards). With so much money in the system, the game has of course only grown more obscene.

So what's a citizen to do in this climate? How to survive the next seven months without blowing a gasket or opening a vein? How to endure CNN's prizefight paradigm, trumpeting every TV debate as if it was Tyson were about to face Holyfield, not shlumpy Bernie and stumpy Hill. Before every match-up, you can hear the communal prayer going up for a truly vicious, nasty night of gotchas, gaffes, and humiliations. Will Bernie finally show his badass side and stick it to her the way he must want to? Will Hillary flatten him like a pancake and drop the Methodist self-restraint? Will she dare to let out her Woman Scorned? Will he step in the Superman shoes you know he secretly keeps in the closet?

So we sit there, week after week, month after month, and egg them on. And none of it matters a good goddamn, any more than a raucous night at the Garden. There may be catharis I guess, in the Greek sense of using these titan-clashes to exorcise our terror and pity; in that case, they could do some public good. But mostly they're awful and petty and mean, in the ring as well as the press box, where talking heads wait like hungry hyenas for anything to rip at for blood. There has never been a more unforgiving age than this one, where nothing is forgotten and nuance is dead. Evolve on an issue? Flip-flopper! Attempt to be private? Cover-up! The cruelty of these talking heads can be stunning. They missed their calling at the Coliseum, gleefully watching the Christian limbs fly.

My point is that politics doesn't matter and believing it does is like swallowing Kool-Aid. Politics is the theater we prefer over truth - the devastating news of the world, where our hearts break and we have no vote. It's the window dressing on the room of the world, not its urgent, pulsing interior. It's two bald men yelling at each other over coffee instead of volunteering at the local shelter. It's not the direction we need to go.

That's why I hate politics.

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