Pessimism about the government is rampant. Criticism of government decisions can be endless, and often involve the use of annoying buzz sentences like these:
America is in decline! Elections are rigged! Corporate interests own the government! Politicians lie! Congressional districts are drawn unfairly! We’re being over taxed! We’re being under taxed! The military industrial complex profits of death! Liberals are being wimps! Conservatives are being bullies! I’m not really interested in politics! Obama hasn’t done shit!
These statements all have one thing in common—they are meaningless. As popular as it is these days in the United States to express disillusionment with the inevitable corruption and foul play of our civic institutions, comments like these reveal that although most Americans are aware that there are problems, most of them are too uninformed to actually voice any meaningful data on any particular matter. What is the result? People regurgitate pessimistic crap instead of doing their own research. Or worse yet, they just do a little bit of research and claim to understand everything.
But talking pessimistically about political figures or the economy, as if you’re a hipster describing how your favorite band sold out, isn’t just dull, it’s socially damaging.
Pessimism should not be cool. It’s how the jerks in power that you don’t like want you to behave. They want you to be so sick of the system that you don’t even want to engage with it, meaning there is one less informed mind they need to convince of their likely mediocre policy. And when the general level-headedness of the mainstream leaves the electoral process and instead opts to just complain, the void is filled by ever more radical individuals with an even poorer grasp on reality. Heavy radicalization of the Republican Party has had far less to do with an increase in hardcore right-wingers as it has been America’s majority of moderate republican leaders and voters decreasing their participation in government.
That heavy right wing pressure is part of what has made President Obama largely a centrist, which opens him up to heavy criticism from both sides. When he takes a moderate military policy, for example, Republicans call him weak and Democrats call him a war criminal. Given that horrible acts by the military happen under every president, and given that there is always an option to go more aggressively into a military situation, any idiot can call any president either a war criminal or a wimp and get away with it.
Given that virtually no one disagrees that the world is a screwed up place in need of much improvement, it would be far better to even briefly put the rants of hatred aside and accept the complexity of most political issues. Equally complex are the psychologies of the people in power, many of whom put a lot of thought into their choices compared to how little thought it takes to criticize them.
The most recent Erroll Morris documentary about Donald Rumsfeld, Unknown Knowns, is a testament to how even when leaders make bad decisions, it is still based on way more information that the average American uses to voice even their harshest complaints. That’s often a very scary truth to consider. It doesn’t mean we have to always support the choices of people in power or avoid criticizing them. All it means is that our criticism must be informed and not just jump to demonize leaders for the sake of demonizing them (even if it’s deserved). Elected officials all-too-often become the face of whatever good or whatever bad happens while they are at the helm. Unfortunately it’s rarely that simple.
Presidents do lots of things while in office. Their cabinet and their many advisors do lots of things. Many of these things are good. Many of these things are bad. But the need for people to simplify this to a few key one-liners is not only pointless, but also comes at the cost of their own understanding of the problems society faces. Blaming the person in charge in any situation is everyone’s favorite scapegoat because it alleviates everyone else from blame.
Complaining is easy. Anyone can make a generalization. Anyone can decide to not participate in our electoral process because they feel disillusioned by the obvious problems of our modern era. Anyone can certainly write a blog post of discontent to his/her fellow citizens like this one. None of it is impressive. These things are doable by all of us, and do not elevate anyone above the imperfect systems of governance that we are all inevitably connected to.
Don’t elevate the status of politicians any higher by adding drama to their fire. At the end of the day, they are just employees who like all of us, are most responsive to the people who put the most pressure on them. In an effective democratic state, that pressure should be coming from us. Making that happen starts with taking the initiative, reading up on topics, and voicing a complaint based on understood facts instead of feelings, fads, and meaningless buzzwords.