Well, that was something.
It’s time to let it go. Maybe we can all agree not to wear our made-in-China political merch 24/7 and turn the online virtue-signaling down a notch or two.
Let’s allow one bumper sticker per vehicle and the occasional meme if it’s genuinely funny, but if you’re going to roll up in a $50,000 pickup wrapped with glamour shots of your preferred dear leader and statements of your core beliefs, you’re going to get side-eyed in our brave new world. Because that’s a little nutty, dude.
For once, maybe we need a boring guy with very little flavor in the White House. Somebody who’s almost no one’s first choice, but we can all agree isn’t trying to leverage the office to increase his Twitter following.
We probably won’t return to where it’s almost rude to bring up politics in mixed company, but maybe we can let everything recede a bit. Let’s get back to where we were dog-cussin’ both parties and acknowledge that most of the time politics doesn’t impinge on the way we live our lives. And that there’s very little we can do about it anyway.
Sure, on a local level, you might be able to get something done. Maybe you can help elect a school board candidate or get a pothole filled. A vote is a vote, and despite what some people might try to tell you, they all count. But the chances of your particular vote affecting a national election are pretty negligible. (I’ve heard one in a billion, but that sounds high.)
There’s only so much we can do. And we should do what we can, but also recognize that we cannot change the world. And that worrying about what we can’t change is a waste of effort and probably a good way to make ourselves unhappy. Which is why it’s best to not think about politics most of the time.
Politics, when done right, is pretty boring to most people. The decisions made by those we elect make a difference, and it’s understandable why some people become deeply interested in the details of these transactions. Some enjoy the drama. They like to follow the personalities and root for the interests with which they have–often for reasons that have little to do with their own particular situations–aligned.
Some people identify as political junkies. Some people are hockey fans.
What’s distressing is the sheer number of Americans who have adopted politics as their favorite pastime. They dress in team colors and attend to the homer entertainment channels–MSNBC, Fox, OAN, CNN, Breitbart–that cater to their tastes. We ought to stop that and find something better to do than bask in the stupefying glow of the made-up 24-hour news cycle.
Because there isn’t enough news for a 24-hour cycle; about 23 and 3/4 hours of programming on any particular news channel is likely to be fake outrage or some failed comedian auditioning for his own cult by going on about evil rich or poor people in between ads for credit repair and uncirculated American Silver Eagle coins. It’s designed to keep you watching, to hold your attention so they can sell you to their advertisers.
But you knew that, because you’re an adult. Right?
You’re not like the people you see on Facebook pretending to be constitutional scholars and epidemiologists holding forth on platforms in the public interest. You know exactly what the limits of your expertise are and don’t offer up your advice for free.
You’re not one of those people still posting about face-swapping, clones and adrenochrome.
We need more sports and movies now, more music. In a good society, we should be able to ignore politics and simply attend to occasional civic rituals, which re-occur like necessary chores. We should be free to be apolitical. If you’re going to be obsessed by something, it ought to be deep and soulful, not the performative wolf-crying of men and women who mean to make a career of presenting themselves as leaders. Baseball is something more worthy of your investment.
No one should care as much about politics as a lot of us have these past four years. But let’s hope these years were extraordinary, as in not normal. And that while the trauma and damage they inflicted was very real–for a while there you could see the American id roaring and thrashing; you could see the beast inside–we are returning to a less dramatic, markedly calmer state.
We have managed to stuff a monster back in the closet. It’s not gone; all that rage will still find weak points and fault lines to exploit. We will still have school shootings and atrocities committed by the damaged and the prideful, but it’s probably going to be a while before the war on decency throws up another avatar as bald and raw as what we’ve just seen.
The next would-be dictator–and there will be another one–will be smoother and smarter and less reliant on simplistic slogans and obvious lies to stir the passions of the aggrieved.
The next one will present as rational and reasonable and data-driven.
That’s just evolution, which is science, which some of you don’t credit. That’s OK. Science, unlike magic, functions independently of faith. Someone is going to do the math and find a way to determine the best choice in any given situation.
The days of intuition and talent are numbered. Big data is going to reduce us all to tendencies and probabilities. As mysterious as we may seem to ourselves, given a big enough sample size, we are all parsable.
We should welcome our nerdy overlords. They will unlock the math, and it will become a question of making optimal decisions. They’ll bleed the art out of politics, just like they have poker and basketball.
I don’t know what to do about them, short of acknowledging that facts matter and that the end of history is still out there beyond the horizon. It’s not inevitable that the good guys win; looking back over the centuries, it’s not clear if the good guys even have a winning record. It’s been a pretty good rivalry.
We made it. Take a deep breath, but leave your mask on. Pitchers and catchers report Feb. 12.
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