Consumer society politics

Sometime in the late 1960s, people’s involvement in politics changed from participation to consumerism. When I was a kid, our parents and grandparents carefully, not blindly, listened to, selected and exercised their right to vote for the candidate of their choice. No one waited for a politician’s mass-delivery message to reach them, they bought newspapers (many towns had more than two), they read editorials, they listened to radio interviews. They participated in the process of evaluation at meetings and debates. Yes, many politicians who told you what to think — like McCarthy — were dangerous for a while, or did actual harm, but the public wasn’t fooled for long.

Politics back then reminded me of the adage: You can fool all the people some of the time, you can fool some of the people all of the time, but you cannot fool all the people all of the time.

Participation in politics was a personal matter. Yes, if you wanted to proclaim your preference you could wear an “I Like Ike” badge or the simple “Kennedy for President” button. But something happened as America turned to relying on television’s ability to convince you to consume product. Some early TV commercials simply informed the values of a product like “Our Repairmen are the loneliest guys in town” or that dishwashing liquid that made your hands softer, or “See the USA in your Chevrolet.”

That TV set, sitting in your living room, had become part of your family, a trusted member.

Political parties and politicians suddenly could speak to you in your own home. They could preach at you, they could tell you what was right and what was wrong. It did not take long for media expert candidates like Reagan to employ message writers to convince you what was wrong. This new breed of politician rarely offered a solution, but what they did, in their messaging, was sell you into agreeing with their assessment of what should be bothering you, what they proclaimed was wrong. No debate, no editorial discussion in competing newspapers or radio stations. You were — and still are — presented with absolute statements as if those were facts. “The immigrant crisis…” What crisis? Today there are fewer illegal crossings than for the past 10 years. The word “crisis” cannot be confused with “issue” or “problem.” Crisis is an absolutism. It is not true. And that’s just one example. Other absolutisms are “Right to Life” (anti-abortion might be accurate) or “Pro-Abortion” (woman’s right to choose) or “Critical Race Theory” (hypothesis might be acceptable) or “Gun Control” (which means nothing physically since guns can’t control themselves — so perhaps gun owners’ control).

If you were to become a participant, involved in your local and national politics, you could work at finding the truth, the facts. You would easily and quickly discount people who profess to be absolutists, you would look for consensus, you would want to evaluate, not merely accept someone’s word. Participants evaluate, consumers swallow what is fed to them. Consuming politics like it is entertainment, advertising seen in your home, can only lead to fake perspectives, McCarthy-like idolatry, and cult scare tactics. And why do you want to fall for that?

Admittedly, as a consumer, you may have learned to trust the TV set in your own home or that smartphone you stare at for hours each day. Remember, these “free” messages someone wants you to buy are a mistake in trust that you and everyone ought to correct before it is too late.

Peter Riva, a former resident of Amenia Union, now lives in New Mexico.

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