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Faux Politics: A Public Health Hazard

I don’t know about you, but the run-up to the 2016 U.S. presidential election has me feeling like I’m coming down with something. To quote poet Billy Collins, it’s “a kind of measles of the spirit, / a mumps of the psyche, / a disfiguring chicken pox of the soul.”

No, I’m not bailing on politics, the vital process by which we determine our shared fate in a democracy. Rightly understood, politics involves a rigorous, ongoing public debate on the common good that requires us to talk across our lines of difference with the civility and hopefulness that make for “a more perfect Union” — a topic on which I’ve written at length.

But what’s going on right now ain’t politics. It’s a middle school food fight and spit-fest, minus the decorum and dignity that middle schoolers bring to all they do.

The Huffington Post recently decided to report on one candidate’s spewing under “Entertainment” instead of “Politics.” I applaud their decision, but with one hand only. I don’t find spewing entertaining. I’d report on it under “Public Health Hazards.”

Spewing spreads the highly contagious BS virus, an airborne pathogen that’s been genetically engineered to bypass the brain. The virus passes directly from the carrier’s mouth to the victim’s ears, then from the victim’s mouth to the ears of others. The result is a wide range of infectious diseases deadly to the body politic, including racism, sexism, homophobia, elitism, jingoism, and fascism.

To help stem the epidemic, here’s a poem I love by John Haines:

The Last Election
by John Haines
Suppose there are no returns,
and the candidates, one
by one, drop off in the polls,
as the voters turn away,
each to his inner persuasion.

The frontrunners, the dark horses,
begin to look elsewhere,
and even the President admits
he has nothing new to say;
it is best to be silent now.

No more conventions, no donors,
no more hats in the ring;
no ghost-written speeches,
no promises we always knew
were never meant to be kept.

And something like the truth,
or what we knew by that name—
that for which no corporate
sponsor was ever offered—
takes hold in the public mind.

Each subdued and thoughtful
citizen closes his door, turns
off the news. He opens a book,
speaks quietly to his children,
begins to live once more.

“The Last Election” is full of good counsel about how we can evoke “the better angels of our nature” to protect ourselves against all the toxic pseudo-political bloviating:

  • We can turn to our “inner persuasion” for the truth that no corporation will sponsor.
  • We can close our doors, turn off the faux political news, and read good books.
  • We can talk quietly with our children and grandchildren, and begin “to live once more.”

Once we’ve done all that, we can open our doors, seek out friends and neighbors and strangers, and talk with each other from a place of sanity and humanity. That might allow “something like the truth” to “take hold in the public mind” — and “We the People” might have a chance to reclaim our democracy.

Then we can expel the ringleaders of the food fight and spit-fest. But only after they’ve cleaned up the cafeteria and paid for the damage they’ve done.

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