Backseat Driving

Posted: September 5, 2016 in Culture, Idealism, Idle Nonsense, Media, Politics
Tags: , ,

We all live in perceptual bubbles of varying breadth and focus. Otherwise, we would be omniscient, which none of us is or can be. Two hot topics that lie outside my perceptual bubble are geopolitical struggles in Israel and Northern Ireland. I’ve also read analyses that suggest that our current troubles and involvements in the Middle East are part of a clash of cultures going back two millennia, where the mostly Christian West won the battle back in the Middle Ages but newly gained oil wealth in the Middle East has prompted a resumption of hostilities. I have a mixture of opinions passing acquaintance with geopolitics, and the complexity of the myriad interacting elements keeps me from getting a good fix on what’s proven to be a constantly shifting target. That aspect of modern history is the domain of intelligence agencies, military strategists, and diplomats. I don’t necessarily trust those professionals, though, since they operate with their own perceptual biases. (When your main tool is a bomb hammer, everything tends to look like a target nail.) But I also recognize that I’m in a really lousy position to second-guess or drive from the back seat. Plus, I have zero influence, even at the voting booth.

In the narrower arena of domestic and campaign politics, the news media (journalists) have failed in their legitimate role as the fourth estate, which function is now being performed by their cousins in entertainment media. (I’ll skip the diatribe that journalism has essentially merged with entertainment and utterly lost any claim to objectivity.) Specifically, we live in a surprisingly mature age of political satire replete with shows that deliver news in comic form far better than serious journalists do with straight faces. The model is undoubtedly The Daily Show, which has already spun off The Colbert Report, Last Week Tonight, Full Frontal, and The Nightly Show. Each of these shows features a host considerably smarter than the audience, who proceeds with rapid-fire (though scripted) takedowns of all manner of political dysfunction. Each has its own stylistic tics, but in aggregate, they arguably do a better job of investigative journalism these days than, say, 60 Minutes, Dateline, or 20/20. Better yet, since they don’t pretend to be serious journalism, they can dispense with bogus claims to objectivity and simply go ahead to indulge in righteous indignation and silly stunts, exposing corruption, stupidity, and inanity in all their shameful manifestations. Political humor has now become a form of gallows humor.Last Week Tonight in particular demonstrated recently that activities of those elected to public office have a very high quotient of fundraising and perpetual campaigning:

My takeaway is that for professional politicians, the proper focus of government also takes a backseat to the business of government despite government not really being in the business of making money. How much the military-industrial-corporate complex has by now morphed into a plain kleptocracy is an open debate, but it’s clear that whatever worthwhile projects may go on at most levels of government are heavily intertwined with political patronage — a pay-to-play system that attends primarily to the desires of a class of people who frankly need no assistance while abandoning those with real needs to their own devices. In Chicago, in Illinois, and in fact nationwide, we have witnessed the steady withdrawal of social supports for people in need while movers and shakers behind the scenes enjoy access to decision-makers purchased through campaign contributions if not straight-up graft, jamming projects (especially for-profit real estate development projects partially funded through the mayor’s middle 9-figure slush fund) through over reasoned objections. (Two notable exceptions in Chicago are the failed bid for the 2016 Olympics a few years ago and the failed project to build the Lucas Museum of Narrative Arts on the Chicago lakefront.) Meanwhile, the Chicago Public Schools are insolvent.

As a backseat driver, I have long believed that government is brazenly serving the wrong constituency as well as the wrong objectives. Populist rhetoric offered by today’s candidates does not mask the reality that most people are in fact unrepresented and given little attention except for their periodic potential during election season for being duped into voting against interest and then forgotten and dropped. I can offer no solution.

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