Against Circus Politics
By Manuel Armenteros
The US has become a circus since Donald Trump won the presidency in 2016. While it is true that all pretense of civility and normal discourse has gone out the window, one should also be reminded that such clownish acts and clownish personalities are not new in politics – far from it.
To take but recent examples, Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi and South Africa’s Jacob Zuma and, to a lesser extent Hipolito Mejia are leaders who have said and have behaved in manners that are not appropriate for people wielding power, irrespective of how certain portions of the population may like these acts.
The above being true, repeated exposure to the newest scandal or shocking acts by individual people can lead to a certain kind of anesthetic effect in which the impact of such acts loses immediacy and surprise. In so far as this last statement is true, it can actually be a good thing.
Why would this be the case? For the simple – but often overlooked reason – that heads of state are only a part, and in some countries, a rather small part, of the total situation.
Congress, parliament and – as now has come up due to the Kavanaugh affair – the courts, are also extremely important, as is some kind of activism in the social sphere. Democracy should be an active process, not a passive one saved for voting alone.
By constantly paying attention to the newest outrageous remark, important laws get passed in the background with little commentary. Thus, while CNN is focusing on how un-presidential Trump may be behaving, massive tax cuts are being passed that increase deficit and debt in an already unequal society.
What is more important for ordinary people the fact that Trump or Zuma are strange or that tax cuts and weapons sales are passed by law in the background? The answer should be clear, and news organizations should be responsible for other things besides ratings and viewers.
One should remember that a good many news outlets exist for the purposes of making money, selling advertisements to certain sectors in society in exchange for a particular kind of news coverage in which certain interests and privileges are not discussed in anything much resembling the adequate amount of coverage such topics are discussed.
When was the last time CNN, Fox or MSNBC discussed poverty, or the consequences of nuclear war?
To be fair, when the topic of North Korea or Iran are mentioned, nuclear weapons do come up as a topic of conversation, but the species-costing results of such an exchange are barely mentioned and even down-played.
It’s important to be civil and to speak to others with a minimum of respect, but it is all the more important that the species not die due to mediocre politicians and often rather meaningless nationalism.
Laughing is also an important part of life, to not laugh because the global situation is dire is a mistake, but one should also not confuse humor with laughing ourselves all the way to an early grave. After all Trump will remain Trump, but the world goes on.
Syria is still being torn apart, China continues to expand its borders, Latin American corruption is increasing, the US continues to provoke Russia, and Britain is still confused as to do what to do with Brexit. All of this should be front-page news, not Trump’s antics and insults.
Behind the circus there are people suffering the consequences of this spectacle. At times like this anesthesia is a good ally as it allows us to proceed to surgery and ignore the symptoms.