4 Things 'Dumb' Politicians Do That Are Secretly Smart
Those of you who follow my column probably don't think of me as a particularly politically oriented writer, because ... yeah, all things considered, I'm not one. Still, that doesn't mean I don't follow politics, in my own mildly slack-jawed, "slowest kid in the class watching pro wrestling" kind of way. To keep with that clumsy analogy, I've learned to recognize certain political equivalents of setups to finishers, spot moves, and identify other manipulative crowd-pleasing antics. What I don't understand is why the media keeps treating these absurdist antics as individual instances instead of the extremely common, widespread political strategies that they really are.
So, armed with my political expertise of [armpit fart noises] and [actual fart noises], I thought now would be as good a time as any to look into some of the strange-seeming, yet common and oddly effective ways the people who want us to vote for them sneakily yank our chains in the desired direction. For instance ...
Playing The Fool Is A Surprisingly Effective Political Strategy
Most every election in recent history, regardless of the level, has featured at least one wacky-ass joke candidate with statements and opinions so far-fetched, it soon becomes evident they're not fit to lead a fucking parade. So how could they ever expect to get anywhere? Are they really that delusional? Or are a worrying percentage of political candidates just out there for a laugh?
Well, yeah, some of them probably are. But I'll wager some of them are adopting this strategy very deliberately, because sometimes the joke character wins the day. Ridiculous candidates can and absolutely do get elected in various positions all the time. In 2010, comedian Jon Gnarr went full ... well, comedian on Iceland during Reykjavik's city council elections, running as the "Best Party" candidate, promising to break all his promises, and generally behaving like a loon. His campaign amused people, so they voted him in, and he ended up the mayor.
The history of politics has plenty of crazy underdog stories like that. If the political climate is right -- like if the last umpteen incumbents have sucked absolute monkey balls or socioeconomic circumstances dictate a heavy protest mood -- the "joke" candidate can become a viable option in the voters' heads. This is not always a bad thing. For instance, Gnarr seems to be doing a pretty fine job. But, sometimes, the joke candidate is completely unfit for the job for reasons of not even being human: In 1967, a brand of freaking foot powder was elected mayor of a small Ecuadorian town, thanks to a successful ad campaign. And not even the drug euphemism kind of foot powder.
To be fair, it's rare to find a candidate that can actually do something for your personal well-being.
These are not just those "wacky foreigner" B.S. stories the media likes to bullshit us with every once in a while. Thanks to various protest votes, gaffes, and other strange curveballs, America has seen dogs, cats, mules, and Austrian bodybuilders voted into some political position or another over the years.
Of course, there's a limit to how high up the mountain a politician can survive with this particular climbing equipment. As folks like Ben Carson, Rick Santorum, and Vermin Supreme (it's worth noting that, as far as we know, only one of these people is actually a performance artist) have helpfully and repeatedly demonstrated, the joke candidates -- whether deliberate or accidental -- tend to remain decidedly in the fringe when it comes to serious candidacies of the leader-of-the-free-world sort.
Ridiculously Cartoonish Heroics Make Them Seem Stronger (But Only To Their Supporters)
Politicians need to appear heroic. That's how they get support -- by essentially invoking the old hero-king trope humanity's had a boner for since the Sumerian times. "Accept me as your ruler. I will fight for your way of life. I can protect you." That has been the bare-boned message behind every single serious political campaign ever since our rulers actually had to do that sort of thing instead of just riding into the town square and threatening to behead everyone.
*sigh* "If only ..."
It's just that even within a single nation, political and cultural sensibilities vary widely, and for a politician, there's no such thing as mainstream appeal. Even the most popular politician will always have nearly half of the nation against them, solely because of their party alignment. The people who support, say, Jeb Bush can easily consider someone like Bernie Sanders a senile softie who wants to turn the whole nation into a hippie hug-a-thon, while Sanders' proponents consider Bush to be yet another puppet upholder of family traditions of invading desert countries. But for their own camps, both are heroes, so those are the eyes they shape their public image for, aiming for the lowest common denominator to rake in as many semi-like-minded supporters as they can.
As a flipside of that coin, this creates a weird situation where that image can be downright cartoonish to everyone else -- which is most of the people. Hell, if you support Ted Cruz, there's a very fair chance you see the "Fight me, bro" debate challenge he threw at Obama as a brave, honorable move instead of, say, a weaselly attempt at attention and some cheap pops.
The hero principle gets even more ridiculous on the global scale, where cultural differences further muddy the image puddle. Consider Vladimir Putin, who's notorious for crafting his public image as a Chuck Norrisian memetic badass, thanks to carefully chosen ubermensch imagery like this:
"Bond villain? I eat Bond villains."
To the average Westerner, an image of a president straight-up Monty Burnsing in a supervillain submarine is something you'd expect to see in a bad action movie. But for a considerable segment of his own citizens, he's the term "hardcore" personified, because he's their president, on their side. "I will fight for you. I will protect you." Meanwhile, I'll bet that many of those same Russians are looking at patriotic photo-ops like this:
"Can we do the volleyball scene with Iceman next?"
... and shaking their heads. "God-fucking-dammit; those Americans are at it again. Why must they turn their presidents into cartoon superheroes?"
They're Inventing Villains Because We Respond To It
Politics are rarely an amiable affair. Even so, many experts consider America's current increasingly polarized and partisan system to be more on the divisive side of things, even though no one is currently actively aiming bazookas at each other. Today's political climate sees people as more defined by the ideas they oppose than they are by the ideas they support. Combine that with the whole hero thing above, and you can probably see where this is going.
Look, I've been trying real hard to keep Trump out of this. It was a challenge I imposed on myself, because right now it's really fuckin' hard to write about politics and not have that head-mossed blob sneak in. I could have easily replaced Jeb Bush with him earlier. The jokes would have been much better, and I apologize for not using them, because this is where it becomes evident the official Sack of Holding Stupid Opinions for this GOP candidacy race just can't be ignored. So fuck it -- dude might be a low-hanging fruit, but he's one that just so happens to encompass the very essence of this entry in one, slightly viscous campaign trail.
Tell me: Who is Donald Trump's main enemy? Which demographic does he see as the one that will ruin America unless he's elected? I'm seriously asking: I'm writing these words a week before this column goes up, so by the time you read it he might have switched his focus to the Amish for all I know. One week, he was happily bashing liberals. Then, he was building a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border to keep the filthy Latinos out. Then, it was Muslims, and I'm not even going to dignify what he said by repeating it. You follow the news, so you know what he's been saying. Even the prime minister of Israel is telling him to chill.
It's easy to scream "fire" when you already look like you're melting.
"Hold on, Pauli, you ignorant sack of genital mucus," you say. "You know you can't base a claim about the entire political scene being dominated by arbitrarily decided enemies on one man's crusade for unholy stupidity, right?" This is correct, so I'm not. Also, "sack of genital mucus"? Holy crap, I want to high-five you for having such a colorful palette of insults, straw man I just made up.
Friend, let's face it: Inventing enemies is not just a common political behavior; it's a great fuckin' way to recognize you're mentally wearing a stormtrooper uniform and taking orders from asshole space knights voiced by James Earl Jones. I'm going to trust you and assume I won't have to mention the asshole antics certain mustachioed Soviet and German leaders pulled off with variations of this particular smoke-and-mirrors tactic a mere handful of decades ago. Shit, America once threw freaking George Takei in an internment camp, along with, oh, 120,000 or so of his American peers. George Takei.
You'd expect humanity would have taken a hint and stopped the whole arbitrary-enemy-inventin' thing, because it should be apparent by now that it's nothing but a tool to hurt people. So why do we keep that shit up? Maybe it's because ...
Related: 55 Villains We Should Root For
Rampant Trolling Is A Super Effective Political Tool In Times Of Trouble
I don't know if you've noticed, but the Western world has been in a bit of a slump recently. Oh, life in general is still pretty much better than ever -- we're still watching funny cat videos on magic glowing rectangles while eating food that kings of yesteryear could only dream of. It's just that the conga line of financial turmoil, mass shootings, ISIS, and other issues have joined forces with today's instant, reactionary news cycles to create this weird whirlwind atmosphere of worry and anger. There's a very specific political strategy that rises during times like this. They call themselves "patriots" and "concerned citizens," but I'm going to just go ahead and call them trolls. Because, let's face it, that's essentially what they are: the Internet's worst come to flesh, risen from the murkiest depths of message boards to take over our parliaments and congresses and ice cream vans in order to scream bigotry at you if you order anything but vanilla.
Or refuse to step in.
And it is a sign of the times. Remember, this isn't Trump's first rodeo: He gave candidacy a shot in 2000 as well, backing ass-backwardly off the Reformist party race while, funnily enough, throwing Nazi accusations at his opponents. Today, he thrives, and the question is less about how he'll shoot himself in the foot and more: What if he doesn't? This is what's currently happening on a global scale; right-wing fringe characters previously treated as little more than bad jokes are crawling out of the woodwork, because the current atmosphere allows them to employ their strategies of choice to the absolute max ... and succeed. France has Marine le Pen, whose views on race would have seemed excessive in the pre-Civil War South, and her National Front party is currently sweeping the floor with the two biggest parties in her country. Hungary is actively flirting with neo-fascism and building straight-up razor wire fences. Hell, everyone's at it: Austria, the U.K., Finland, even freaking Sweden have all seen the emergence and success of far-right movements in recent years.
The why of it is simple supply and demand: When the world is afraid, the people who profit are the people who thrive on fear and hate. For what it's worth, my belief is that it's eventually going to go away. History has shown that extremist bullshit rarely lasts in democratic countries: Voters are reactionary creatures, so the far-right will eventually blunder and begin to falter, people will move on to other things, and these ideologies will crawl back to the marginal and once again bide their time. Still, until this shift happens (surely it will happen, guys? Guys?), chances are we're looking at some ... interesting times. That was pretty dark for a comedy article. Have a picture of some animals.
Silently judging humanity, as is their right.
This wouldn't be the first time being batshit crazy has swayed voters. See how Francois Hollande won the presidency with a Kanye West song in 5 Insane Strategies That Won Elections (And Changed History), and learn that politics has been ridiculously stupid throughout time in 5 Presidential Elections Even Dumber Than This One (Somehow).
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