What impression might a foreigner visiting from another planet gather from the American political process? A culture that prizes leaders who can exalt themselves and their accomplishments the best while simultaneously trying to make the other leader out to be the biggest liar. They might conclude that whoever packs the most virulent attack against the other is the one who this culture deems worthy as their national leader.
“Long lives the king who can strike down his fellow citizen the best!”
Using the axiom of reviewing someone’s checkbook to determine what they value, what would such analysis conclude from an observation of American spending on political campaigns?
The money being spent on elections seems to be out of control, now pushing two billion US Dollars. What does this expenditure really represent? Consider the purpose and content of political advertisements—mostly sardonic attacks on one another.
$2 billion primarily being used as attack weaponry against each other.
Granted, our nation is deeply divided along many fault lines, but throwing massive amounts cash at a political ideology and their representative candidates will not solve the problem. Furthermore, the flow of cash is so plentiful; it drives the price of normal advertising space up to 14 times the normal cost. Is this worth it? What does this say about America during a time with so many people hurting from a poor economy? But the campaigns and PACs are happy to spend the hefty premium for just a little bit of message space to inundate the few swing voters. Is there something wrong here?
What does this reflect about our society?
Now, look at this through the lens of long term human development and how we are culturally shaping the next generation. Who we cultivate today becomes our nation tomorrow. So my question becomes—what does this mean for our future? By our actions as a society, what is being modeled for the Millennial Generation? What are the values we are espousing as Americans through this behavior?
We viciously attack one another. A $2 billion cock fight?
Yet it works! We hear about it all the time from the experts: the posturing, the attacking, the “exuding confidence,” the twisting, the window dressing, and trying to catch each other in lies. It’s what you have to do to win, and apparently, it’s true. We esteem this process with its tactics and strategies through our checkbooks, our national attention, and our votes.
We get what we ask for. But is this what we want?
Consider what we are tacitly teaching our future leaders, today’s teens and young adults, about leadership. Kids tend to model what their parents do. Similarly, young adults will tend to model those leaders before them. They’ll just follow suit and we’ll just get more of the same in the future.
However, some twentysomethings are asking questions. They know something is amiss, yet they don’t always know what to do. An insightful 22-year-old I mentor explained his dilemma of struggling to formulate a moral-compass while observing the generations before him. “It’s hard to know the difference between right and wrong, I want to do what’s right,” he told me, “yet I see such hypocrisy.” He continued, “I’m afraid if I do what they do to be successful, then it will change me and I’ll become part of the thing I hate.”
Are we truly leading the young generation? How are we teaching our young to lead their families, organizations, businesses, and government?
Many would say the ends justify the means. Perhaps that’s the problem. Let’s look at the big picture. There’s a whole young generation trying to make sense of right and wrong and who they are in a very convoluted world.
Forget aliens, what impression are we leaving on our next generation?
$2 billion dollars while so many are unemployed and hurting? Something is not right here and perhaps the young are beginning to see.
Are we stopping to think?
I was actually just thinking about this early this week. This model of exaltation, for lack of a better term, is so prevalent in our society and not just in politics. I see it in business, education, and even religion. We tear down the competition in order to “win” our audience. How does this make sense? How is this beneficial over the long haul? We have an entire country that is trained in how to slander and accuse anything they don’t like or agree with. There is no seeking for understanding or common ground. Everyone is going off and doing whatever they think is right and our culture encourages this behavior! The majority of the business articles I’ve been reading recently have been about how everyone can become an entrepreneur, but I look at all the different products out there and all I see is different people creating the same thing to fix the same problem. Since everyone wants to be their own boss they are going and making their version of the product as if they don’t even recognize that there are 20 other people who have already created the same thing. I just stand there and ask, “Why?” Everyone is out to do what they think is best for them, but there are so few who are really trying to see what’s best for the people around them. This really does beg the question, “What is right?” and sadly there is no clear answer. If we base it on how we see those around us behaving then “right” is what’s best for us. Is this really right?
For anything to be “right” it must also be “true”. What is true? Can there be two different “right” answers to a question? Could it be possible that 2+2 equals anything but 4? Learning to be right requires adjusting that which is wrong, and it begins with oneself. Following other people in word and deed can only repeat such words and deeds. Right or wrong becomes an opinion, an observation, not a goal. Self justification tends to breed indignation for others, thus producing less tolerance and less grace, compassion, and mercy. The result is less care for others and more focus on self. This is pride. This is the opposite of truth. This is the opposite of right.
Forget the tangible connection to money and let’s put our observation into another perspective; that of time. What are the predominate occupations of our time? Answer this question and you will see where the money goes and why.
What’s the alternative? I don’t believe (and would argue against) a political “solution” (e.g. campaign finance reforms). I think our problem is cultural. We view politics as “races” with “battleground” states. It’s “us” versus “them.” Consensus? Bipartisan agreements? Maybe baseball is our nation’s pastime, but is baseball much more than a physical metaphor for politics, the process by which people impose their beliefs on others through the force of law (read: physical coercion)? Perhaps football, a sport I enjoy, would be a more obvious example.
It’s hard for me to believe that our political discourse is far removed from the people it supposedly reflects. While I’d like to think I’m above nasty campaigning, I’ll try to remind myself the next time frustration and anger seeps into my throat during a political “conversation” that the problem starts with one person: me.
I couldn’t agree more with your blog. It saddens me that young people are having trouble judging wrong from right in this cultural climate. One destructive trend I’ve noticed over the years has been the degrading nature of our television programs. Whoever controls television programming really DOES peddle rude, mindless material that revolves around making fun of others.
While this is reprehensible, it’s made even worse by the fact that the young (and old!) imitate the things they see on television. I don’t always appreciate sarcasm because it’s usually so OBVIOUSLY rude (to me)– but we have an entire generation of people who see nothing wrong with it. What if our television programs touted virtues? How many young people even know what the word “virtue” means? Do they know what constitutes a virtue?
I really think voting out the entire senate would do wonders for not only our government, but our current political system. Get the career politicians out and some new blood in. That’s all I have to say about that.