September 29, 2015

DAVIES | The Bitter Harvest of Political Decay

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Donald Trump’s success represents the fulfillment of ancient Republican prophecy. The Party’s Department for Agitation and Propa­ganda, commonly known as Fox News, has long strived to paint a picture for its disciples in Middle America of the great American — the true American. In this image, individual success is the measure of a man’s worth and the dollar is its currency.

The Republican Übermensch is wealthy, white and unabashedly arrogant. Donald Trump is the pinnacle of this idolatry, and as such is the prime specimen among the pugnacious crop of 2016’s Republican harvest.

While conservative media’s attempts to internalize certain values within their viewers has fueled his success, Trump, along with fellow candidates Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina, is external to the mainstream political discourse. In this election cycle, we have seen voters attracted to political amateurs. Be they the silver spoon son, the neurosurgeon or the failed CEO, the outsider’s star is rising.

The success of candidates untainted by Washington has combined with Fox News’ deification of braggadocious bombast and righteous anger to expose an ugly aspect of our cultural decay — the increasing value placed on style over substance within the political system. Appearance and tone are everything; content and accuracy are nothing.

In today’s American politics, politicians win votes and support when they drop bombshells railing against the idea of a Muslim president or equating Obamacare with slavery. 2016 Republican candidates are focused on infighting and alarmism (accompanied by the usual half-truths and lies) rather than promoting and debating meaningful policies.

This dynamic is playing out not only within presidential primary races — increasingly in politics, voters are swayed by extreme rhetoric and irresponsible fear mongering. Politicians no longer rationalize their actions to their constituents; they scare them into submission, intimidating them with the false threat that their very way of life is under attack.

Illustrating this point is the potential federal government shutdown over the baseless accusations that Planned Parenthood profits from performing abortions. Republicans, led by the odious Grinch-troll chimera that is Ted Cruz, are out for blood, seeking to pull federal funding for the women’s health organization, forcing a government shutdown in the process.

Despite Cruz’s vow to not give in to “the Washington cartel,” the whole argument that Planned Parenthood makes money by providing abortions is without foundation. None of the videos cited by Republicans show any evidence of the organization turning a profit on abortions. Fetal tissue is donated for medical research and Planned Parenthood is reimbursed for the costs. Maybe it’s just the Republican profit-obsessed mindset, but Planned Parenthood categorically does not profit from providing abortions. Conservative media outlets have overlooked this fact though, raising the hue and cry at the mere thought of the sale of our unborn sons and daughters.

While their deception may garner support for individual candidates (and viewers for TV stations), the Republican Congress stands only to lose by becoming embroiled in yet another shutdown scandal, particularly when only 17 percent of Americans support their strategy. In the long run, conservatives’ fixation on alarming rhetoric will only hurt their political position. But when did truth and statistics ever stop the anger of the righteous?

Republican politicians show an utter disregard for facts and deceitfully manipulate public sentiment using false claims, just as Republican voters show a complete lack of willingness to demand truth and responsibility from their elected officials and news media. The voice that shouts loudest tops the polls, regardless of what it says.

No longer do Americans choose their leaders based on their merits — they simply select those who make them the most afraid of the world around them. No longer does reasoned debate form the bedrock of political discourse — scare tactics win votes and boost polling numbers.

Gone are the days when those in power strived to make America a better place. Today they worry only about the source of their next donation and the target of their next attack. Politicians will use the most effective tools for their own ends. When voters respond to indignation and vitriol more than to reason and policy, that’s what our political discourse becomes.

This decay is only a symptom of something worse. It is the mark of a nation comfortably gathered around a television, mindlessly accepting what it’s told. We should be worried not only for our politics but also for ourselves. An uninformed populace comfortable in ignorance is a problem; a misinformed populace comforted by lies is a tragedy.

Alex Davies is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected]. Have I Got News For You? appears alternate Tuesdays this semester.