The reason I write so little about the presidential election is that it’s the ultimate expression of the CNN-ization of American politics: a tawdry, uber-contrived reality show that has less to do with political reality than the average rant one hears at any randomly chosen corner bar or family dinner. That does not mean the outcome is irrelevant, only that the process is suffocatingly dumb and deceitful, generating the desire to turn away and hope that it’s over as quickly as possible. […]
Strong and rational though it may be, the temptation to ignore entirely the election year spectacle should be resisted. Despite its shallow and manipulative qualities – or, more accurately, because of them – this process has some serious repercussions for American political life.
The election process is where American politicians go to be venerated and glorified, all based on trivial personality attributes that have zero relationship to what they do with their power, but which, by design, convinces Americans that they’re blessed to be led by people with such noble and sterling character, no matter how much those political figures shaft them. (Wednesday, President Obama, during his highly-touted “Ask Me Anything” appearance on Reddit, predictably ignored the question from Mother Jones’s Nick Baumann about Obama’s killing of the American teenager Abdulrahman Awlaki, in favor of answering questions about the White House beer recipe and his favorite basketball player.)
The election process is where each political party spends hundreds of millions of dollars exploiting the same trivial personality attributes to demonize the other party’s politicians as culturally foreign, all to keep their followers in a high state of fear and thus lock-step loyalty.
It’s the supreme propaganda orgy, devoted to aggressively reinforcing the claim to American exceptionalism: the belief that even when things look grim, America will forever be that special God-favored land of freedom, opportunity, and prosperity, and all citizens should therefore be deeply grateful – quietly and passively so – for the privilege of residing in such a land, no matter how wretched are their circumstances and how pervasive is the corruption.
It’s what inculcates many Americans to believe that they enjoy vibrant political debate and stark democratic choice, even as so many of the policies that are most consequential and destructive for their lives – the “war on drugs”, the supremacy of the covert national security and surveillance states, vast inequalities in the justice system, crony capitalism that rapidly bolsters the oligarchy that owns the political process – are steadfastly ignored because both parties on those matters have exactly the same position and serve the same interests. (Watch how often Obama supporters will defend their leader from conservative attacks by proudly arguing that Obama’s policies are actually the same as that which conservatives advocate: he’s severely cut government spending even more than Bush and Reagan! Wall Street and corporate profits are at an all-time high! He’s killed and killed and killed some more! His healthcare plan comes from a rightwing thinktank! Nobody has been more faithful to Israel than Obama! He’s severely harmed Iran with sanctions and isolation! etc.)