It was a long night.
I went to sleep at a decent hour, then woke up at a distinctly INdecent hour, and lay awake until right around the time my kids started stirring. Isn’t that always the way…
Normally, I’d attribute my nocturnal twitchiness to some ill-advised afternoon coffee, or a pressing deadline. But no. I woke up in the middle of the night, rehashing the presidential debate; and in my sleep-deprived mind, it sounded something like this: ‘did not.’ ‘did too.’ ‘nuh-uh.’ ‘yes-huh.’ ‘he started it.’ ‘that’s what she said.’ ‘so’s your mom.’ ‘so’s your face.’
I lay awake, mentally writing blog responses. I lay awake, composing SNL skits about binders full of women. I lay awake, dreading the outcome and aftermath of the election. I lay awake, dreaming up apocalyptic futures in which my children don’t know the meaning of ‘civil discourse.’ That, and they have to hike 20 miles to find clean water. (Hey, i live in the desert. This is where my mind goes at 3am).
Americans are addicted to many things–two of the most distinctive being 1)round the clock entertainment and 2) being right. Combine these two fatal flaws, and what we’ve created for ourselves is a political culture that is anything but just and balanced. On the contrary, it has gotten downright toxic. Families are fractured. Churches are splitting. Communties are coming apart at the seams. Road rage incidents escalate because, you know, a stranger’s bumper sticker is enough to make you want to run them off the *%##@!&@^ road.
It is a spiritual sickness. The quickness to judge someone as stupid, hateful, sinful or sub-human, based on their political leanings; the ways that we value the packaged rhetoric of a party or a candidate over the real and actual people right in front of us; the certainty of right-ness, in spite of all the good and decent people we know and love who live on the other side of the aisle.
And while we all say we are sick of it–while we all have campaign fatigue, and just want to see SOMEbody do SOMEthing to secure our future– we continue to feed the beast. We just can’t help it. We continue to be swayed by campaign ads that insult our intelligence and even our humanness. We continue to make snap judgements about strangers based on their bumper stickers. We continue to leave our churches, to fight with our families, to go on facebook and tumblr rants that alienate half of our contacts list. We continue to lie awake at night. And in the midst of everything, we continue to watch debates that look less like progressive civilization and more like…what… UFC meets the Hunger Games? Lord of the Flies vs. Survivor Reunion? Jersey Shore goes to visit the Clampets? Or maybe something more sinister. Maybe Honey BooBoo goes to Jesus Camp. [spoiler–scariest movie ITHOTW. perfect for Halloween]
Whatever reality series, game show, or sitcom you liken it to, one thing is clear: This is primetime. It is manufactured. It is produced and promoted. And you better believe, it is a top dollar ad spot. My brother is in a touring Broadway show, and they have had to stop all American appearances until after the election. Why are they spending the next 6 weeks in Canada? Because they can’t afford stateside advertising. True story. All the political banter has driven ad dollars to Super Bowl proportions, and regular folks–with regular businesses, services, and yes, actual entertainment venues–cannot compete. And it wouldn’t matter if they did. We are all glued to the trainwreck of an election year.
It is all a product, a show, a story…and one that is in large part fictitious. We’ve come to accept that politicians lie. We have scores of ‘fact checkers’ waiting in the wings to process for us how much of the show was based in reality, and how much was written for our amusement. And the thing is–once the lies have been revealed, we don’t even care. It’s just politics, we say. They all lie, we say. It’s edited for TV, we say. They have to make it entertaining. And we go on like it’s just fine.
Thing is..it is NOT fine. It is not ok that the leaders of the free world lie to us, in chronic fashion, and we’ve just accepted it as the way of things. It is not ok that we don’t know who to trust, who to believe… And it is certainly not ok that, for all politicians are known to mislead us, we continue to rally behind them and support them at the expense of our real relationships, our real lives, and our spiritual well-being.
It is created for us. And as long as we’re buying, they’re selling. As long as we buy the anxiety, they will sell the anxiety. As long as we buy the fear of other, they will keep producing it. (“You’re black.” “Yeah, well, you’re a mormon.” “You kill unborn babies.” “You hate women.” “So’s your mom.” “So’s your face…”) I’m not sure how to change the dynamic, other than to move with some awareness that, when it comes to politics, we get what we pay for. And what we see on the big screen is merely a reflection of how we engage each other in real life. If we want to change one, we’ve got to change the other. Otherwise, we are just begging to be lied to.
Meanwhile, as long as we look to the political arena as a source of entertainment, then entertainment is exactly what we’ll get. It will be a great show. There will be popcorn, and billion dollar commercials. There will be name-calling and mud-slinging. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. It will be entertaining as $*^!, and we’ll all walk away feeling good about ourselves, high on being so right about everything. But will we sleep at night? Don’t count on it.