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.