Escaping our politics of myths & lies

Sam Smith – Myth and lie-based politics have been around for a long time before Trump. In its modern, dominant form, the Nixon administration is a good place to start. The Clintons’ ability to conceal the reality of the Arkansas mob politics which they had led was another example as was the major dishonesty about the Iraq War. 

But lying and mythology have now become the norm. We have a media that doesn’t ask enough questions, a public that takes images as reality, and a political system driven by money and lies rather than actual constituencies. 

Among the key facilitators of this mess are television and the Internet.  Think of your TV as your political church which you attend to learn what to believe. You go to Saint MSNBC and your neighbor goes to the Fox Cathedral, and, for support of your beliefs, you read your favorite Bible on the Internet.

If you think I exaggerate, consider that during 30% of our last forty years we have had a show business president – first Reagan, than Trump – substituting myth for decent policies. 

Or that right now, the guy who is almost beating myth master and Texas Governor Greg Abbott in the polls is an actor, Matthew McConaughey.

And it’s not just America. According to one account, “The 2020 report of the Varieties of Democracy Institute found that the global share of democracies declined from 54% in 2009 to 49% in 2019, and that a greater share of the global population lived in autocratizing countries (6% in 2009, 34% in 2019)”

You can’t have democracy without considerable value given to reality and morality.The remaining places where one can still find this is in our neighborhoods as well as the communities created within our jobs, our free time and our religion. We, the unreported mass of America, are the last refuge of a freedom, democracy, cooperation and decency.

Your neighbors, the people you work, play and pray with, are those most likely to provide a haven from the upper level cynicism of American culture. This doesn’t mean people always make the wisest choices, but these are cultures in which even mistakes become less damaging. We tend to underrate the importance of such places, forgetting that time and again, positive change has come from the bottom up rather than as a gift of the elites. 

Think about your own community. Do you have any one leading it as corrupt as Mitch McConnell or Ken McCarthy? Who lies as much as Donald Trump? 

To recover America we have to start from the bottom up. 

Schools are a good place to begin. In a time when students are primarily taught practical, but amoral, skills in order to serve as dutiful adults in our economy, the recognition that the young will learn values whether you teach them or not gets lost in the shuffle.  

Having gone to a Quaker high school where values were an essential part of the curriculum and then to a college that was only interested in your test scores, I appreciate the difference.

It is not that values should be inculcated, but that they be studied, discussed and encouraged. You should be defined by your decency as well as your IQ.

No place is this more useful then with an informative and wise approach to cultural and ethnic variety. As a society these days, we are obsessed with analyzing and criticizing the evils in ethnic relations, both current and historical, but with a stunning absence of emphasis on the knowledge and ways that such evil can be replaced by a positive relationship. Kids won’t learn this from TV or the Internet, or from their pals. It needs to be a basic part of the curriculum. 

Churches and neighborhood groups are other places where values and fairness can be brought to the fore. Churches, for example, could help fight their loss of parishioners by having regular meetings to which all in the ‘hood are invited to discuss value issues or listen to stories as a variety of folk tell what was like getting where they are. 

One of the sad things about the moment in which we live is that the right is far better at uniting people around reactionary values, witness evangelical churches, QAnon or Proud Boys. The trick is to beat them at their own game. To come together and define what it means to be a decent, kind and cooperative American. And we can do that from the bottom up.