Politics Without a Point

Most of us have no idea what we really want out of politics. Fuming with outrage, we vent our emotions into the digital void. The cathartic moment evaporates, and we’re left with the sinking feeling that managed national decline is the best the “visionaries” we voted into office can muster. America has become a case study in political nihilism. More specifically, we suffer from politics without a point. 

Watching House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy read Green Eggs and Ham in protest of cancel culture perfectly captures our present political moment. Green Eggs and Ham wasn’t ever in danger of being removed from publication. McCarthy didn’t read from one of the six Dr. Seuss books pulled from publication because they do, in fact, contain imagery that’s dated and offensive. 

So why would he do it? Reading a non-offensive kid’s book isn’t exactly a big political flex. Was he trying to pressure a private publisher to keep distributing books it found offensive? I can’t imagine McCarthy hoped to indirectly champion racist images in old books with limited popularity. 

There was no point. It was meaningless political theater, but he did it because it’s what we crave.

The directionally loud voices on social media and cable news shape our political beliefs far more than the likes of James Madison, Ayn Rand, Karl Marx, or Saul Alinsky. In a culture programmed to receive, critical thinking atrophies. When Tucker Carlson scrunches up his face and gets bent out of shape at liberals doing liberal things, Republicans can’t get enough. Don Lemon blasts Trump supporters as being on the side of the Klu Klux Klan, and Democrats howl with glee.

Too often, the personalities on our screens tell us that we’re good, and those who disagree with us want to destroy America. We may not know the point of our politics, but the attached entertainment industry has amazing clarity: Put eyeballs on emotionally driven content and monetize it. As a result, they’ve built a political equivalent of the World Wrestling Federation.

When we confuse governing and entertainment, the boring, tedious art of statecraft takes a back seat to the perpetual campaign. Running for elected office is far more exciting than the underlying job. Candidates thrill us as stump entertainers. They crow about stopping the other side, play to our fears, and promote general platitudes devoid of specifics.  

We boldly ignore the reality that American government is specifically designed to prevent one person from assuming power and doing whatever he or she wants. That’s a huge letdown for voters who envisioned an American utopia just an election away. We’re temporarily entertained and then gravely disappointed. 

For a people who possess the awesome power of selecting political representation, we perpetually hate our own choices. In a typical year, more than two-thirds of Americans disapprove of the job Congress is doing. 

A 2020 Pew Research Center poll conducted before the last presidential election found that 56% of President Joe Biden’s supporters voted for him “because he is not Trump.” That was it. No other stated reason for supporting Biden was even close. In the prior election, Trump was not Hillary Clinton. 

“Not the other guy” is neither the point of politics nor a plan for America’s future.

Every politician who heads to Washington with a singular focus of combatting the other side is like a NASCAR driver trying to get around the track by only applying the brakes. It’s not enough to be against the other team. Political leaders identify problems, apply principles, develop solutions, and build majorities to pass them. That’s the basic job description for every legislator or government executive in America. Otherwise, they are little more than publicly-funded sound machines. 

Ronald Reagan famously said, “Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” Many of my friends dutifully recite those last four words without question. Few of them know the context of Reagan’s words or that he went on to say, “It’s not my intention to do away with government. It is rather to make it work.”

In a country with hundreds of millions of people, we need effective government to maintain life, liberty, and human flourishing. Government sets up the guardrails for a society that delicately balances both liberty and security. It isn’t meant to provide our every need, but it’s not inherently evil either. Building and shaping that government is the point of politics even if we’ve forgotten it. Right now, it’s difficult to imagine us having an appetite for governing more than entertainment, but it’s necessary. Thankfully, I know at least one politician willing to read us a children’s book about trying things we’re not sure we’ll like. 

Cameron Smith is CEO of the Triptych Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit. The Triptych Foundation promotes a virtuous society through investments in socially impactful media and business. He was recently executive director of the Republican Policy Committee in the United States House of Representatives. You can reach him at cameron@triptychfoundation.org.

First published on Al.com – Click HERE to see the original article.

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