I’m just gonna get this first part out of the way right at the beginning: I do not care whether you like Donald Trump or not. Nope. Don’t care. Do not tell me. I don’t want to know. Not now. Probably not ever. Of course, I have my opinions, strongly held. You do too, I’m sure. I can’t even imagine an American in the year of Our Lord 2019 not having an opinion about President Donald J. Trump. But this is not a political essay about the President, or Democrats, or impeachment, or the primaries. This is a political essay about you. Specifically, you the “American Person.” The singular of the “American people” the politicians are always talking about: you’re smart, hardworking, honest, courageous, determined…there’s no virtue you don’t embody (as long as there’s an election coming up). You’re ultimately the one with the power and responsibility in a democratic republic, even though it might not feel that way. You can exercise your power through lobbying, voting, petition, protest, activism and advocacy work. But you know where you can’t exercise it?
On your ass in front of the TV.
Scrolling your phone in bed.
Bickering with Uncle Frank at Christmas dinner.
I get it. Politics is everywhere, all the time. It’s hard to ignore it even if you want to. Every day is a new crisis, a new battle blasted straight into our psyche via television, social media, radio, print news. And despite the superficial evidence to the contrary, all these politicians and pundits are broadcasting a common message: Stay tuned. Watch me. Don’t look away. This is important.
Your brain believes it. So, does your ego. So, you get swept away by the latest scandal. That sweet, sweet outrage dopamine hits your receptors, where it mixes with a hefty dose of existential anxiety. Then suddenly you’re arguing on Twitter, yelling at the screen, even treating dear friends and family members in unimaginable ways. Week after week, crisis after crisis, again and again.
“I’m doing Something Important,” you reason with yourself. “I’m paying attention. I’m setting things right! I’m making a difference here! I’m speaking on behalf of the American People!”
No. No you’re not.
In fact, binging and regurgitating political outrage entertainment belies a serious lack of the maturity we need to successfully run a democratic republic. When we stop acting, voting, and advocating in favor of gaping open-mouthed at the spectacle, we become neutered, owned and maneuvered by whoever promises to keep it going: Stay tuned. Watch this. Don’t look away. You need me.
We become like the Roman people the classical author Juvenal complained of when he said, “That sovereign people that once bestowed military command, consulships, legions and everything, now bridles its desires and limits its anxious longings to two things only--bread, and the games of the circus!”
There is still time to take the political outrage needle out of our arms. We are the American People. We vote. We lobby. We protest and petition and advocate, and they need us. Not the other way around. We can insist that the circus stop, and we can make it happen. But it must start with each one of us, from the grassroots. No more distractions. No more pundit TV, no more mindless scrolling and bickering. This is the real radical political action – putting politics back in its place as a service to the good of the people rather than a form of entertainment or a devouring monster. Where should we start? The 1960s hippie icon Timothy Leary used to say: “Turn on, tune in, drop out.” Today’s counterculture demands turning off, tuning out, and dropping in. Turn off the political news channel. Switch to music on the radio. Nourish your family and friendships. Go a day or even a week without the red pill or the blue pill. Don’t forgo politics entirely. Just put a limit on the blinding, stupefying outrage. You don’t need it. It needs you. Don’t you ever forget it.