There is a degree of patronizing by political leaders of their electorate, in both ‘democratic’ countries and dictatorships, that is, in a word, appalling.
Thinking, acting and believing that we are so stupid, disengaged, disinterested or easily bamboozled that they can inflict their personal need for “feel good” moments, (headlines, tweets, polls, rallies, and even short-range tactical decisions) and pass them off as “policy” and even as ‘strategy’ is blatantly insulting.
Whether they are announcing the ‘building of the biggest and best wall’ or ‘mediating the dispute between North Korea and the U.S.,’ as Putin did yesterday, trumpets the vacuity of the leader’s comprehension of and capacity to deal effectively with the specific issue. It also drives pollsters into the streets seeking public opinion on the latest ‘announcement’ and then the news microphones are obliged to report on the findings of those polls. And while the veracity of the polls and their reliability may not be in question, the whole process smacks of a cultural addiction to mascara.
And, then, the advertising agencies and the sales staff of the networks hit the streets to vacuum whatever client contracts they can grab, in support of the charade. (Or in the case of a totalitarian regime, the state operatives do this work). It is not ‘fake news’ as portrayed by the American president, in that the facts are not ‘true’. It is the deliberate selection of which facts are important, starting with the leaders like trump and putin, whose sole purpose and meaning, (although wrapped in a national honour flag) is to inflate their own reputation and thereby extend their longevity in office.
The mere announcement of a “position” by a unilateral leader, under the guise of speaking for a body of researchers, analysts, macro-thinkers and, for example, foreign policy scholars, is a deception and a lie of a different sort. It is a sign that we are now living in a time when superficial, instant-gratification, egocentric, narcissistic pronouncements, without debate, without counter-point prior to their release, and without regard for their long-term and complex implications, and the kind of public official in power, simply rule.
And we are complicit in this charade.
Of course, there are those, like Rachel Maddow, Chuck Todd, Jake Tapper and John Dickinson who are attempting to peel the mask from the monster. And yet, they too are under strict guidelines subject to the “popular opinion polls” that tell their editors which stories ‘interest’ their audience. And, judging by the spate of candy floss pronouncements coming out of Washington, Moscow, and even Ottawa, and perhaps even London (although European news is not much more than an occasional trickle in North America, unless and until some disaster erupts).
In Ottawa, pronouncements about the changes in benefits for veterans, for example, long overdue, merely attempt to mask the ethical mis-steps by leaders like the Prime Minster and the Finance Minister. And those blatantly brain-dead decisions by the elected men also expose some highly questionable recommendations by the ethical commissioner, begging questions of co-dependence among the bureaucracy.
For the political practitioners, it is called “messaging the message”….trumpeting the brand….’getting ahead of the story’….and managing the media….and all of it is “engineered” (almost literally) as if managing the message, the reporters and the opinion polls are the three most important jobs of the elected officials.
Their job is, first and foremost, to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth of whatever situation(s) they find themselves facing. And while there are always investigative reporters digging where the politicians would wish they would never dig, and extracting stories that have come back to bite the elected officials in the butt, those stories would have much less venom, if the politicians had told the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth in the first place.
We are not in the business of attempting to discern who, among our political candidates, is the most deceptive, the most dishonest, the best sales person, or the best chameleon. And yet, it would seem, at least from here, that that is the kind of media “literacy” skills that are required. We have to seriously question the kind of objective, penetrating and sceptical viewing, listening, reading and reflecting that our young people are being asked to engage in back in their classrooms. Of course, they have to master the technology so they can secure employment. Yet, being able to use the technology ought also to include the concept of discerning when hucksters are misleading, when showmen are seducing, when salesmen and women are exaggerating the claims of their product or service.
Naturally, there are issues of national security, and foreign policy, the full disclosure of which would send the world into a downward spiral. However, some of us are wondering how the current system of managing the news is working for us. And most of us are willing and able to grant some slack for these purposes, but only if and when we are confident that such discretion, secrecy and non-disclosure is in the public interest, and not primarily in the interest of the public servants (elected and appointed) managing the file.
Experts who are paid big bucks to address party conventions about “delivering on their promises” would likely pay at least lip service to truth telling, as part of their curriculum. And yet, if the culture is based upon a tradition of manipulation of information for the primary purpose of seeking and achieving the re-election of those in power, then the train has gone off the rails.
And while, unlike Megantic, people are not being reported as dying as a result of the “fire”… This disease of popularizing of the news as a means to enhanced advertising revenue, and manipulating both what is released and what is withheld, not to mention what is blatantly false and exclusively self-serving, is more analogous to the frog in boiling water; it does not prove dangerous and disastrous until it is too late.
I have often been accused of being “impatient”….and while I accept the criticism on one level, I also respectively suggest that the public is far too complacent, detached, disinterested and disengaged at a time when charlatans are seeking and achieving political power around us, with little or no regard for their public responsibilities. Canaries in this coal mine, so far, appear to be too few and too far between.
Chris Hedges writes brilliantly, persistently and courageously about the corporatizing of American political culture. It is not only the symbiotic relationship between the corporate suits and their political puppets that is deplorable. It is also the fast-feeding of the most glib, distorted, manipulated and outright counter to the public good “information” that gushes from the official sources that one has to wonder why anyone, yes anyone, would accept the job of media spokesperson.
Surrendering to the inevitable mental castration that accompanies the job of speaking for the gaggle of current leaders is not something it would take a Philadelphia lawyer or a James Bond or even a Charles Krauthammer (in his office as psychiatrist) to discern. Prostitution, in its original form, has been legalized in some quarters; do we have to inflate its practice to the public arena, where the public good, and potentially the survival of the planet are at risk?
And while we blithely watch this spectacle playing itself out before our eyes and ears, (perhaps even our somnambulant brains), we might like to consider our own part as actors in the chorus of this Greek tragedy.
Pointing fingers at others, while easy, and even somewhat entertaining, will neither solve this mess, nor will it change the pattern of self-sabotage in which we are all deeply, if somewhat innocently and unconsciously, embedded.
While continuing to do the same things and expecting different results is the definition of insanity, what is the same behaviour called when the whole political culture is repeating the same dynamic? Can the “public” be ‘committed’ if it willy-nilly walks blindly off the end of a high tower into a deep granite gorge, before the inevitable disaster?
Are we surrendering to a deeply ingrained trait of perpetual adolescence, as a tribe of Peter Pan’s, or a classroom full of Peter Pupkin’s, from Leacock’s Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town, or perhaps a full cast of Pinocchio’s to our various Mangiafuoco’s?