(Swans - October 24, 2011) It was before my time. I didn't become aware of any political scene until my adolescence in the sixties. But, based on my readings, it appears that American electoral politics was once a pure and open democratic process. By pure, I don't mean to imply that there weren't character assassinations, scurrilous shenanigans, back-room deals, or other various corruptive efforts to undermine and circumvent populist influence on the results of the process. But these blemishes were still essentially part and parcel of an overall process that admitted, and even encouraged, participation of the general populace and was aimed at a consensus national polity. It was an electoral process designed not only to select our governmental leaders, but additionally to be influential through that process in forming the direction of national domestic and foreign policy.
In the months leading up to the 1960 presidential election, a relatively new mass communications vector called television entered the process in the form of a broadcast of a debate between candidates Richard Nixon and John Kennedy. Television was beginning to reach nearly as many people as radio, with the same immediacy. The substantive difference between the impact that each had was that radio was essentially textual and contributed to our intellectual grasp of the issues, while television offered a mesmerizing visual imagery that appealed to our emotional response mechanisms. As a result, for the first time an element of theater insinuated itself into the political process. As the impact of this particular broadcast was later studied and analyzed, it began to dawn on those who had a professional stake in influencing the outcomes of the political process that this was a tool that would become essential to their efforts.
In the ensuing decades, as employment of this tool grew both in sophistication and funding to the point that it became the primary tool around which political campaigns were constructed, what had been merely a growing unhealthy influence on the process began, by the late 1970s and early '80s, to actually supplant process. This prevailing pattern of the devolution of process persisted into the new millennium until we reached the point where theater had pushed aside process as the principal force behind policy formulation.
Because the providing of this level of theater tends to be an expensive proposition, especially when several ideological camps are competing for the same share of public attention, a good deal of policy development efforts in the early years of this century were successfully focused on easing the constraints that controlled the flow of capital onto the political stage.
The obvious result of this push has been the completion of the demise of process. It's all theater now. Process is gone, probably forever, given the indolent hypnotic trance into which the majority of American voters seem to have irretrievably fallen. Your civic participation is no longer required, desired, or quite frankly, even relevant. That's my take on it, at any rate. If I'm not wrong about this, does that mean that we're doomed? Well, as a nation, I'd have to say yes. Collectively as American citizens, probably so. But as individuals, I think we're going to continue to have enough latitude that there are things to talk and think about. Things to hold out hope for. I guess I'm in agreement with the late Joe Bageant, who reflected that there may be nothing more rewarding and fulfilling to the human spirit than to live a meaningful life in meaningless times. But how to do that?
Inherent in the concept, of course, is the need for each of us to find our own paths in consonance with our own terms and values, but here's one possible example to consider while searching out your own way. Simplify. Reduce the scope of your goals and efforts to a sphere within which you can still exert a true measure of control. When you think about it, that pretty much leaves you with your own behavior and personal response to the world around you. Which may actually prove to be an enormous undertaking, if approached earnestly enough. For instance, if you can manage to impose a high standard of honesty, compassion, and general decency on all of your various interactions with your family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, and whoever else life happens to throw in your direct path, you might just find yourself creating a small piece of the better world that's no longer achievable through organized political activism.
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About the Author
Michael DeLang is a self-defined middle-aged blue collar worker in the trucking industry who lives in Golden, Colorado. (back)