One of the interesting things about living in a democracy is that we actually get what we deserve. That’s the basic premise behind democracies. Yet if you speak with an average American voter, they talk as if a bunch of lawyers snuck into Congress one day and we need to hire exterminators to come in and gas them.
Who exactly do they think elects these people?
Careful research indicates that we do.
With the exception of certain southern states where dead people vote two or three times per election, most every congressmen you meet got his or her job because you or your neighbors thought it was a nifty idea to send ’em on up. Responsibility lies with us.
Many people believe that in some golden era of American governance, politicians all selflessly made pilgrimages to Washington to frequently attend church and grow handlebar mustaches and fight communists. Until recently. Then they all turned into assholes, and such is why the Republic is flushing down the tubes. In essence, much of America believes that national decline is the direct result of moral atrophy.
It’s not. There are specific, systemic problems with our government that have nothing to do with how morally upstanding the people running it are. These systemic issues won’t be fixed by kamikaze politicians careening into Washington to wage cultural wars and restore virtue. These systemic problems result largely because people lack the ability to understand them.
However it’s much more energizing and vindicating to feel that Washington is nasty because the politicians in it are depraved and corrupt, isn’t it? The notion that moral atrophy is responsible for all ills is seductive, because it means hard-working Americans are being swindled by corrupt politicians. These suit-and-tie hoodlums are just lacking in character, you see. That sort of logic is a lot easier than figuring out things like “math.”
Let’s acknowledge that stupid people do not like tinkering with abstract, complicated problems. They like blaming people. People are easier to get blustery over than concepts.
In the Middle Ages it was a lot more fun to blame things like crop failure or redheads on witches, then set mouthy old women or cats on fire to try and fix the problem. The real reason for famine was in fact more complicated, and involving meteorology and low temperatures and fungal infections and whatnot. But when addressing an angry, starving mob, people didn’t understand explanations about wheat blights half as well as they understood “evil sorcerers” standing right across from them, ready to be skewered with pitchforks.
We haven’t come far today. I spent a year on the Hill, and spoke to hundreds of constituents from across the country (usually in elevators). I always asked who they were visiting, and this is how 99% of American constituents respond:
Then they would ramble on and on about how Senator Palpatine has a bunch of his kid’s baseball trophies in his office, or how he likes Mountain Dew, or he enjoys killing animals and is thus not the top hat-wearing cartoon caricature they expected him to be. It’s the other congressmen who are at fault.
It turns out that most congressmen are actually pretty likeable and surprisingly intelligent. In fact they care deeply and earnestly about their districts and the people in them. Herein lies much of the problem. Constituents and their representatives prioritize their district’s individual interests over the collective interest of the nation.
If a cavalry base designed specifically to thwart Apache raiders still existed in Hoople, Oklahoma, I guarantee you that the local congressman would fight tooth-and-nail to keep it open in order to preserve the jobs in his district. Likewise, if Placenta, Maryland had a zeppelin air force base, her congresswoman would draw blood to keep those useless dirigibles in production.
Now, magnify that untenable situation by 435 congressional districts and 50 states.
Let’s add the further caveat that when your hard-working congresswoman from Methshack, Arkansas brings back $2 million federal dollars to build a glow-in-the-dark farmers market, she is valiantly reclaiming your hard-earned tax dollars. Whereas the scumbag congressman from Chlamydia, Wyoming who forks over $2 million for a local research grant to teach gay dolphins sign language, he is pissing away your tax dollars on pork barrel spending.
Once again, magnify this effect by 435 districts and 50 states.
Therein lies the problem. Congressmen aren’t evil or corrupt, they’re just doing what their constituents elected them to do. And when you add it all up, constituents mostly want them to do stupid shit.
Don’t believe me? Imagine if we included this questionnaire on the next annual tax return:
Most Americans would answer “yes” to both of those questions, and oddly enough, we’re starting to run low on cash. Also, interestingly, we tend to elect the guy who promises to do both of these things and has the sturdiest jaw line.
We as Americans believe our government has failed us because of its decline in character. We do not think there are complex systemic problems, because we are too lazy to actually analyze them. So instead we crank out angry sloth logic and assume that the ills of our nation spring from a crop of wicked politicians. If we simply had grittier, more morally upstanding representatives, who pray more and philander less, then the debt would magically go away. Or so the logic goes.
Well, it wouldn’t. Do you know why? Because we keep electing our guy to keep the cavalry base open, and we want Social Security and cost of living increases and if we back down on building that Death Star we’ve been talking about the Chinese will think we’re a bunch of pussies.
When we rack up a debt we assume its because of other political reprobates screwing everything up. So we should send our angry, pissed off guy to Washington to set these other dickheads straight, right? Thus we end up sending forth apoplectic militants to render fiery cultural monologues rather than actual bother getting around to fixing anything.
We elect them. We send them to Congress. They’re doing what we want, and that’s to try and drown each other into submission. We no longer send delegates to the Swamp to tinker with wonky proposals, we catapult firebrands to set Congress straight. To come up here and bitch and scream and bring the Republic back to some sort of moral glory which wouldn’t actually do jack to address legitimate systemic problems anyway.
Voters continually lament the lack of bipartisanship in Washington, as if that’s something they actually wanted. Americans don’t want their representatives to be bipartisan, they want everyone else to be bipartisan. Their guy is supposed to go to Washington to lay down the law and restore sanity. This is problematic because no functional government can be composed of 535 Prophet Elijah’s all calling down plumes of fire on the heathens. Somebody actually has to get shit done.
If you think Washington is falling apart because we keep sending up crummy politicians, I suggest you turn your focus to whoever is sending the alleged miscreants up here.
It might well be you.
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Andrew Heaton is a writer and standup comedian in New York City. If this post made you laugh or think, kindly "like" it on Facebook.