Nov 6, 2012

Who Can Be the Face of America?

I have not registered to vote. I will try to explain why here, because I know none of the Obama campaigners peppering the streets of Hanover (and scrawling his name in bright pastels all over the sidewalk) will want to listen to this.

Something has happened with my generation, and it's more complex than apathy -- we have become completely disillusioned about the possibility of trusting authority. This includes nutritional claims on food packaging, statistics in publications with an agenda, the U.S. history we were taught in school, and everything that a politician says. Maybe we're only coming to this awareness now because of the (beautiful, amazing, truly democratic/anarchic) Internet, and the mind-boggling volume of free information these days... but for whatever reason, it's a decisive time. Most people I know my age are either gung-ho, optimistic change-enthusiasts or feel resigned from the whole business of politics. The idealistic dream of having your individual and underprivileged voice be heard throughout the annals of hierarchy in America is dead.

My attitude towards politics falls into the second camp: the resigned. This is absolutely not because I don't care what happens, or have a nihilistic mentality. I care enormously about the fate of humanity and what our society becomes, and that is why it make me so sad that I feel this way. I think the point of ultimate disillusion happened when I was in middle-school, and furiously anti-Bush (largely because of the angsty activism of Green Day's American Idiot, but that's beside the point). George W. Bush -- this greedy, falsifying, callous, flagrantly stupid man -- was re-elected for a second term as president. And I found out after the election was over that the votes in Florida were miscounted, recounted, and manipulated in favor of Bush. It seemed to me that the corporations that run America wanted him in office, not the majority of the people, and so the victory was facilitated without popular consent. That was the most crushing, hopeless realization; all that striving, tackling issues, daring to change, and taking human lives more seriously than statistics (in terms of going to war with Iraq etc., or not) materialized into nothing but a minority of Americans frustrated, hurt, and confused for four more years of the world hating our country.

As for the process of democracy itself, even if it can be imagined functioning without any corrupting influences, I'm not sure that it works at all. Capitalism certainly doesn't work, we know that for sure. One thing that I have learned from being in psychotherapy and observing my own behavior patterns is that emotion is the most compelling, driving force in the human brain. The politicians that succeed in this country are not the ones with the most intelligence, capability, and empathy to solve complex, globally-pertinent issues; because that would involve tolerating uncertainty. A thoughtful person has to admit a lack of omniscience and divine right; a society of people has to do the same.

But societies don't do this. People respond to, and choose to follow, leaders who are charismatic, good-looking, someone they can idealize as the Face of America. The Face of America is a mask, and it will tell you anything to get what it wants -- absolute power. This is the most depressing fact to me: the politicians that present their ideas with a lot of emotional syrup ladled on top, whose oratory skills are like an inflamed preacher or conniving car salesman, the ones who touch people's hearts and also speak to their deepest fears (no matter how misguided and reactionary), will WIN. They will make a better impression, win hearts, and become the leader of our nation. There was so much talk about how Romney performed better in the presidential debates than Obama did, all because he appeared more confident and less thoughtful (not because of the content of his ideas). Obama speaks in a measured, resonant cadence, and seems to carry himself with the full weight of responsibility that his position entails. Romney is able to smile, swipe aside evidence and rational arguments, and launch into an essentially vacuous parable that melts people's hearts. Example, not a direct quote: "Well let me tell you, I met a little kid down in Arkansas named Johnny and I asked him what he wanted for Christmas. He looked into my eyes and said that he just wanted his daddy to come home from the war, and THAT'S who I'm fighting for ladies and gentlemen!"... and everybody explodes into tears of elation on cue.

When people are looking for a leader, they do not want rationality, practicality, consideration for all parties. They don't even seem to want a thorough thought process. People tend to follow those who are able to touch them emotionally, get them excited, make them feel good -- those who have that indefinable star quality. Another part of this in the Romney/Obama case is that people are drawn to candidates who fit their prototypical image of a president (subconsciously or otherwise). Romney looks like an aging Ken doll. He's a rich, old, white guy and you could cut diamonds on his jawline. Obama is clearly something else, and something that much of America still fears. Bush looked more like a president than Gore -- he was older, grayer, had a more breezily confident (and delusional) smile, and indisputably Aryan features; no dark hair and eyes to suggest Jewish heritage. Kerry and Bush both looked pretty old, rich, and white; but Bush still won out of the two by playing off of people's immense fears surrounding 9/11.

I don't think everyone should be allowed to vote. I don't think presidents should have to perform for the people of the country they represent. I think our system of American government is corrupt, self-destructive, inhumane, and past hope. It's heretical to say any of this, which is why I am not posting a link to this article on Facebook.

However. ALL of that being said, I'm not dead yet and this massive problem is not enough to commit suicide over. Coupled with that fact, I also intend to continue living in this country for at least the majority of my life. So next year I am going to register to vote even though I don't think it will facilitate any kind of positive turnaround for America. Choosing the lesser of two evils is still better than just resigning from the whole issue and consigning yourself to the flames.