Nancy Townsley

The Top 10 Approaches to Taking Politics Seriously (or Not) Right Now

(Photo by Letizia Bordoni on Unsplash)

It’s been posited that, in America, we’re sleepwalking our way to the end of democracy. Nancy Townsley examines the Top 10 types of Americans who are contributing to this.

 

So, you’ve been ingesting the news with a slightly smug sense of superiority, hurtling from one extreme to the other—uber-conservative to ultra-liberal—reading it all (or at least the first few paragraphs, or, okay, just the headline). You’re quite the cosmopolitan when it comes to judging the resiliency of our republic from the vantage point of the country’s best (and worst) journalism.

On one end of the spectrum they’re cooing, The smartest, richest people are going to retake the House and Senate next year! Not to worry, capitalism is safe from the socialists! On the other they’re screeching, We’re losing ground! Anti-vax insanity! Roe v. Wade! The four horsemen of the apocalypse approach!

How to separate the pundits’ wheat from the far more prolific chaff? Read on for a variety of approaches, some much saner than others (see if you can guess which is which):

 

The card-carrying optimist. You’re not confused—you’re enlightened! (You’re also naïve, but whatever.) You skip blissfully through the jungle-vine-choked media minefield, from MSNBC to One America, a rose between your teeth, sipping an Appletini and lip-synching “Reasons I Drink” by Alanis Morissette. You’re totally centered, a poster child for Zen practice. Fie on those ninnies predicting the downfall of democracy! you sneer, clicking past yet another story about the January 6 insurrection and how it could happen again—Yawn! As if!—choosing a monoblog about gerrymandering and voter suppression in red states instead. More current, more happening. As you listen, you shake your freshly-balayaged head and let out a little giggle. No way! you think, spearing a forkful of kale salad and checking what they’re saying over on Reddit. We’re Americans! We’re reasonable people!

The cynic/skeptic/realist. You shake a packet of Splenda into a third cup of espresso and yank stress-induced hangnails from your fingertips while processing Professor Heather Cox Richardson’s daily distillation of the major headlines. You’ve been hoping against hope the U.S. will come to its senses, but that horse left the barn a while back. You tell your neighbors they absolutely have to watch Bill Maher’s eight-and-a-half minutes of doom, The Slow-Moving Coup, from early October. That’ll chip the scales from their eyes, pronto. Trump is in it to win it, baby! He’s setting the stage for another run in 2024, as sure as his gold-painted toilet flushes itself. Just ask Chuck Grassley or Jim Jordan or Lindsay Graham! They’re busy trading places in the driver’s seat of the Republican clown car. Or that beacon of sensibility (a.k.a. the Queen of Conspiracy Theories), Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene! She’ll give it to you straight. [Believe me, she won’t.] And how are the Democrats responding? With 13 months to go before the midterms, they’re crouched in the sandbox with their fellow party members, trying to figure out which end of the shovel to use to dig themselves out of their we’re-nothing-if-not-congenial hole.

The person who, in spite of everything, still supports Machiavellian Mitch. The Minority Leader has held his Senate seat longer than any Republican in recorded history, but like the Energizer Bunny, Mitch McConnell keeps on going and going and going. He condemned Trump’s egging on of the goons who breached the Capitol nine months ago but couldn’t bring himself to convict him of wrongdoing during his second impeachment trial. He voted repeatedly to raise the debt ceiling when the GOP was in charge of the government but staged a made-for-TV Mitch’s Last Stand during the most recent fight over national solvency before backing off at the last minute, earning him especially harsh word-salad from No. 45 (ouch!).

The dozen or so folks who pay attention to Adam Schiff. The California Democrat and ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee investigating the Capitol riot recently gave an interview to Kara Swisher, host of the New York Times podcast “Sway,” in which he insisted he and his colleagues are still pressing for accountability for those involved in that senseless incident we all watched unfold on live television (remember that 10 people died and hundreds were injured during the attempted coup, and rumor has it Nancy Pelosi’s lectern is still missing). But it’s sooooo hard to get criminals to answer subpoenas, he complained, when a malevolent former Oval Office occupier threatens to cut them off at the knees if they do. Well, what can you expect from a schoolyard bully who calls you names like “Pencil Neck” and “Shifty Schiff”?

The echo-chamber adherents. These people must have a hard time showering or feeding themselves because their index fingers are permanently stuck inside their ears as they repeat “nee-ner, nee-ner, nee-ner” ad nauseam. To be fair, they represent both ends of the political divide, though yellow-dog Republicans seem far more committed to passing on provable falsehoods, such as “Donald Trump won the 2020 election” or “Michael Flynn got a raw deal” or “Steve Bannon is a really great guy.”

 


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Anyone who mourned the death of Rush Limbaugh. Fifteen million devotees remain united in their grief over the cigar-induced demise of this prolific spouter of bile, who passed on to the next realm in February 2021. Sickeningly, the radio shock jock who catapulted to fame on a wave of conservative anger and unrest—and who delighted in disparaging women, the LGBTQIA+ community, climate change believers, and feminists—earned the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2020 from you-know-who. But don’t despair, Dittoheads. The Official Facebook Page of America’s Real Anchorman lives on.

Fox “News” fans. Simply said, if disinformation is your aim, Fox is your game. Tucker Carlson may be cover-boy handsome, but beneath that chiseled jaw and jaunty veneer looms someone who is nothing more than—to quote the best song from How The Grinch Stole Christmas—a “bad banana with a greasy black peel.” He and fellow Fox Nation personality Sean Hannity are a one-two punch of fake-news purveyance, the latter having fibbed unflinchingly on the air since the late 1990s after the Fairness Doctrine got canceled (thanks a bunch, Ronny Reagan).

Social media addicts who just can’t break up with Facebook. When whistleblower Frances Haugen, a former data scientist at the notoriously secretive tech giant, testified before Congress in early October, it should have been clear once and for all that the Book of Faces is a black hole of exploitation and ill-gotten gain that turns humans against each other and ruins innocent children’s lives. But just when a user is about to hit the “delete” button on their account, the thought of never again doom-scrolling through Aunt Midge’s Hawaiian vacation photos, or finding out if that one-semester college roomie’s leg rash went away stops them cold. Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook is computerized crack, and we junkies are still buying. Except the Millennials who started the whole contemptible thing. They’re over on Insta.

Those who (still) believe the 2020 election was stolen. Joe Biden got 7 million more votes than the last guy, and almost a year later, Voldemort (I mean, Trump) is still holding rallies in Iowa and Georgia, lying his face off about everything from Gen. Mark Milley to Hillary Clinton to “voter fraud.” Incredibly, lots of the people attending those pre-functions are cat-calling the evil socialist Democrats, declaring their collective intention to support a second Civil War, guns a-blazing, then strolling over to the merch table to buy another MAGA hat (or vest, or signed photo of their Dear Leader hugging the Stars and Stripes). For the love of God, can we just move on?

And last but definitely not least, the millions of Americans who, despite all evidence to the contrary, continue to insist they can live their entitled lives without worrying about politics. These are your Internet friends who brag about only posting “happy” things on their social media profile pages—puppies and flowers and sappy memes about lifting others up (Fred Rogers’ “look for the helpers” quote comes to mind). Thing is, these folks don’t actually believe that all is well in the neighborhood. They know democracy is going to h-e-double-hockey-sticks in a handbasket, careening toward the cliff of autocracy on the coattails of a lunatic. They simply choose to act as if all is well, and they get all high and mighty about it. “I just don’t engage with politics,” they sniff, then post one of those fun Facebook games where you tell hundreds of strangers one surprising thing about yourself they probably didn’t know. They’re reclined at a desk inside a building that’s on fire, refusing to call 9-1-1 and whispering, as nonchalantly as possible, “Everything’s fine.” Seriously, it’s not.

 

(Photo by Letizia Bordoni on Unsplash)

 

Nancy Townsley

Nancy Townsley is a longtime community newspaper journalist living in a floating home on the Multnomah Channel near Portland, Oregon. Her work has appeared in Brain, Child Magazine, NAILED Magazine, The Riveter Magazine, Elephant Journal, The Manifest-Station, and Brave on the Page: Oregon Writers on Craft and the Creative Life (2012, Forest Avenue Press). She is working on a novel about a journalist-turned-activist in a time of devalued news.

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