Usually I have very little trouble attending to a single topic or issue about which to write for five days each week. In the more than 175 posts I have written in this blog, I may have had two days when I approached the computer thinking, “I have nothing about which to write.” This week as I am writing about politics, however, I am having that struggle. My writing challenge is less about a lack of material, but rather about an abundance of material, about most of which I am upset.
Last night after I saw Ayad Akhtar’s The Invisible Hand at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater, I felt a bit drained. The play was powerful, to be sure. Beforehand, my friend Ed and I had a wide-ranging conversation including concerns over government, governance, politics, public discourse, and civility. It included everything from international politics to local fundraising. Seeing the production of this play immediately after that was almost seamless.
The playwright grabbed us through his script and the excellent actors, thrusting us into a labyrinth of power and control that shifted again and again from the interpersonal and religious to the financial and political. On one level this was a play about money and capitalism, but it also examined how we win the hearts and minds of people. The playwright showed how we lose them, too.
In politics, groups and individuals seek to win, capture, resonate, and consolidate the hearts and minds of people. Some would say people are “empowered” through this political process. Given the use of sucker punches, pepper spray, screaming, and obscene gestures at Trump rallies, I would suggest the word emboldened instead.
Perhaps the reason I struggle this week to write about politics is my ambivalence about our process in the US when it is not going well. When I think of Trump rallies, Republican debates, ad hominem attacks, and lies, I want to retreat from the national process. When I witness actions of the Black Lives Matter movement or have deeper discussions with local candidates about specific issues, on the other hand, I want to further engage in the dialogue.
Maybe the difference between the populist approaches and the activist approaches in politics in their ability to move me is that the former seeks to corral me into a herd while the second seeks to educate me into a partnership. The first makes me feel duped and alone in a crowded cell. The latter prompts me to notice we are in this government together.
2 thoughts on “Gaining power”
Gary – what is your definition of “populism?” I was thinking about that over the weekend… When I think of “populism” I think of the Sewer Socialists, LaFollette, Teddy Roosevelt, FDR to an extent, Jack Kennedy to an extent, Robert Kennedy for sure… I tend to think of populism as that which comes from “the people” as opposed to that which comes from the establishment above. And that doesn’t just have to be in politics. With the death of Mother Angelica last week, who was certainly pivotal in my move from Protestantism to Catholicism, I would even describe her as populist, in the sense that she bucked the establishment and almost single-handedly brought back devotions that were popular but disliked by the establishment. At any rate, I have a hard time thinking of many other conservative populists, because in general, conservatism is at heart authoritarian. Anyway – those are my meandering thoughts on a definition. And I don’t see Trump as populist. He’s popular. But his movement is coming from celebrity and wealth. But is he populist? I see Bernie as populist for sure. This could be a whole discussion when we have our next retreat.
I take populism to merely empathize with the public unrealistic proposals in order to increase appeal. In this way Trump can say things like he’d build a wall between Mexico and the US and have Mexico pay for it. The is certainly an unrealistic proposal, but it resonates with a few groups. One is the group who feels that their job prospects (this feeling is common for poor whites, some Blacks, and some Latinos) are limited by immigrants from Central and South America. Another is the group who feels that they are paying too much for security (so Mexico will pay for it?) Another is the chronically xenophobic who would also bar LGBT people from around the world. The list goes on. Trumps nastiness even appeals to people who just need to good rant now and then — even centrists who say they’d vote for him find an appeal in his rhetoric. They even say they doubt he’d ever do the stuff he says, but they like that he just shoots off his mouth. Trumps celebrity is right alongside Honey Boo Boo, Real Housewives of New Jersey, Hoarders, and busses to Atlantic City. Those viewers don’t notice he is a fraud.