January 22, 2016

Tell Me What I Want to Hear

I was talking to a Trump supporter who summed it up this way: "he's saying exactly what I want to hear."  

I think that's telling.  It's not: "he's telling the truth" or "he's got an excellent strategy to improve America".  And utterly not: "he will inspire us to a higher standard".  

And the message is "winning" to borrow from Charlie Sheen. It could be simply due to how we now choose media outlets - MSNBC, Fox - that say exactly what we want to hear and rarely challenge us.  

As a consequence we demand our leaders follow us instead of lead us. We don't elect someone wise and measured, we elect the immature and callow, like a Barack Obama in '08 or a Bill Clinton in '92 or a George Bush in '00. 

All the really popular candidates --  Cruz, Sanders and Trump -- have in common the pattern of saying exactly and precisely what conservatives, liberals and "Reagan Democrats" respectively want to hear - not what they need to hear.  Not to explain what is possible to accomplish.  Authenticity seems less measured by truth-telling as by how intensely you feel something to be true or wish it to be. To pick long-shot fights and then blame other Republicans when you're unsuccessful is one example.

And maybe telling voters what they want to hear is the way politics has always been but it seems more pronounced than ever.  At the very least leaders used to have to pretend not to be ambitious; Ronald Reagan used his acting prowess to pretend he was drafted to run in 1980, the homage vice pays to virtue sort of thing.  But now you have Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, who, to borrow from Shelby Foote's characterization of Jefferson Davis, seem "ambitious as Satan".  You could say they are authentic in their ambitiousness, I guess. 

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Addendum:

Holy cow that Mark Helprin can write:

"A diet, caffeine-free Marxist (really, the only thing wrong with being a Marxist is being a Marxist); a driven, leftist crook; and an explosive, know-nothing demagogue — all are competing to see who can be even more like Mussolini than is Obama. But in the caudillo department, surpassing even our own Evita, the Donald wins."

"And forget trying to determine whether Trump's a conservative. Given that, at the suggestion of Bill Clinton, he has like a tapeworm invaded the schismatically weakened body of the Republican party, it’s a pointless question, because, like Allah in Islamic theology, he is whatever he pleases to be at the moment, the only principle being the triumph of his will."

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