Tag Archives: Presidential Election

A Post-Inauguration Letter To America

I’m a proud American. I celebrate, value, and promote the ideals that America stands far. I don’t ignore its flaws, nor do I overlook the egregious mistakes that it and its people have made in the past. That still doesn’t stop me from appreciating all that America strives to be.

Saying all that the day after Inauguration Day shouldn’t feel so dramatic. It really shouldn’t. However, the past year has really shaken up the political and social landscape, albeit in a very distressing manner.

I don’t want to get into the details of why, how, and who’s responsible for all these distressing disruptions. I know that, by doing so, I’ll only invite the wrath and whining of people intent proving their particular ideology or politician is right. I’d rather not do that. I feel like there’s been enough of that in recent years.

Instead, I want to send my own personal letter to America and its new President. Think of it as an addendum of the letter I sent the day after the attack on the Capitol. That was the low point of low points. Today, I’d like to start raising the bar for this great country once more.

It all comes back to one simple notion that I still believe, even after everything that has happened this past year.

We can do better than this.

We can be better than this.

We can and should start working towards a better future rather than trying to realize an idealized past.

I know that all sounds like simple platitudes. Some may even find it corny and empty. I don’t care. I still think they’re worth putting out there to my fellow Americans, including the ones who vehemently disagree with me and did not vote for the new President.

I believe those people can be better too. I don’t think they’re terrible people for voting as they did or for believing what they believe. I do think some are misguided, some more so than others. There are times they say and do things that I find to be genuinely hurtful, hateful, and divisive. It goes beyond disagreeing with them and towards feeling genuinely threatened.

That’s painful because I’m related to some of these people. I have close friends and relatives who avidly and proudly espouse political views that I find repugnant. I do what I can to separate the views from the actual people, but that’s not always easy, especially after what happened at the Capitol.

I genuinely worry about some of them. They have great passion for their positions, but when they argue from a misguided standpoint, it gets disconcerting to say the least. However, I cannot forget that they are still Americans. They still live in this country and want to see it thrive, albeit in their own misguided away.

We may never fully agree on all the issues.

We may never genuinely like one another on every level.

At the very least, I still believe we can all find a way to live together in a way that brings peace and prosperity to both of us.

That’s the message I want to send to my fellow Americans as a new President and a new administration begins. We have many challenges ahead of us, the least of which involves a once-in-a-century pandemic that has killed thousands. We’re not going to overcome these challenges by endlessly insulting one another for our politics.

At some point, we do have to tolerate one another to maintain a civilized society. We have to live together, work together, and even learn from one another as we move forward.

Like it or not, another day will come. The sun will set on one Presidential administration and rise on another. In 2024, we’ll go through the process again. We don’t know what state the world will be in by then, but we can all assume we’ll still have many challenges before us.

That’s something to remember for the future.

For now, let’s focus on the present.

Let today be the first day when we close our eyes, grit our teeth, and try to look forward. I know it’s tempting to look back on all the frustration, derision, mistakes, and injustices of the past. We shouldn’t forget them, but we also shouldn’t be defined by them. We cannot change the past. We can only effect the future before us.

Let’s begin that process today.

On this day, let’s remember that we’re all still Americans.

We still love, value, and celebrate this wonderful country. Whoever you are and however you voted, never forget what that means. Let’s not just focus on making it great. Let’s work to make it better than it has ever been.

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Dear America: Yesterday At The Capitol Was Awful (Do Better)

I love America.

I’m proud to be an American.

I believe in the ideals, values, and promise of America.

I don’t deny this country has flaws. No person is perfect, no group is perfect, and no society is perfect. We’re an imperfect species, by default.

All that being said, yesterday was a sad, pathetic day for America. This country that I love showed some of its ugliest blemishes for the world to see and it was objectively awful on every level. The protests at the Capitol were a terrible sight to behold. While this story is still ongoing, it’s safe to say it’s as bad as it looks and then some.

AP: Chaos, violence, mockery as pro-Trump mob occupies Congress

“Where are they?” a Trump supporter demanded in a crowd of dozens roaming the halls of the Capitol, bearing Trump flags and pounding on doors.

They — lawmakers, staff members and more — were hiding under tables, hunkered in lockdowns, saying prayers and seeing the fruits of the country’s divisions up close and violent.

Guns were drawn. A woman was shot and killed by police, and three others died in apparent medical emergencies. A Trump flag hung on the Capitol. The graceful Rotunda reeked of tear gas. Glass shattered.

On Wednesday, hallowed spaces of American democracy, one after another, yielded to the occupation of Congress.

In general, I try not to comment on news that’s still fresh. I also try to avoid getting too partisan when talking about hot button issues in American politics. I understand how this can bring out the worst in people. However, I have to make an exception for yesterday.

I won’t mention names. I won’t even mention public officials or candidates. What the people did at the Capitol the other day was both shameful and pathetic. It wasn’t enough to just disagree with how the election turned out. It wasn’t enough to be angry at the other side for daring to pitch an agenda they didn’t approve of. They had to do the national equivilent of flipping over the chess board in anger because they lost.

That’s not what civilized people do.

That’s what whiny children do.

I want to say you’re better than that, but actions speak too loudly in this case. You act like you’re the “real” Americans. You call yourself patriots, but you mock, whine, and desecrate the people and places that make America what it is. That’s not patriotism. That’s just being an asshole.

Be better than this.

Do better than this.

I know you’re capable of it. I still believe in America’s highest ideals. We’re not measuring up to them now and we just went way too far in the opposite direction.

We need to turn this around.

We must turn it around.

America deserves better than this, but it also needs to put in the work. So, let’s start today.

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Filed under Current Events, politics, rants

A Message To America After Election 2020

It’s over, America. We did it. The election of 2020 has concluded. We now have a winner and, come January 20, 2021, there will be a new occupant of the White House. Let’s all take a moment to appreciate this. It is, after all, a cornerstone of American democracy.

We, the people, elect our leaders. We don’t always like who wins, but it’s still on us, as a people, to make that decision. I know that sounds cheesy, given these cynical times, but it’s still worth saying.

With those platitudes out of the way, I have another important message I’d like to share with my fellow Americans. It’s simple, succinct, and apolitical. It’s simply this.

Regardless of how you voted, let’s all make an effort to be kinder to one another.

It’s not a tall request. It’s not something that requires great sacrifice or rigor. It’s just a simple act that anyone can do, regardless of their affiliations or ideology.

It shouldn’t seem so daunting, but these past few years have made it difficult to grasp. I’m on the internet every day. I see plenty of instances of horrendous, unbridled hatred. It’s on social media, message boards, Reddit, and even text messages. I won’t offer examples because it’s just that disgusting.

It’s not always political, but for these past few years, politics has been a catalyst for such hatred. It’s no longer enough to simply disagree with someone on a particular issue. The default has become utter and complete hatred of anyone who disagrees with you.

Whether it’s on abortion, LGBTQ rights, party affiliation, or sexy characters in video games, there’s no room for understanding and nuance anymore. Either someone agrees with you or you hate them in the utmost.

That is not healthy.

That is not conducive to a functional society.

Moreover, that is not in keeping with the American spirit.

America was not founded on hatred. No society founded on hatred could ever become so strong and dominant. It takes people living, loving, and cooperating with one another, regardless of differences, to build what America has built.

Have we made mistakes? Absolutely, we have. Every country has, some more so than others.

We’re human. We have flaws. Hatred is one of our most egregious flaws, but it need not be our most defining.

So, with that made, I sincerely hope that my fellow Americans will use this recent election as a turning point. We don’t need to “own” our opponents to vindicate ourselves. We don’t need to hate each other to prove ourselves right. We just need to be kind and make the most of the lives we live, as Americans and as fellow humans.

To that end, I’ll end this message with one of my favorite quotes by John F. Kennedy.

“We have the power to make this the best generation of mankind in the history of the world or make it the last.”

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Happy Election Day! Now Vote!

It’s Election Day here in the United States of America. I don’t know how many people have been following the news for the past four years, but even if you’ve somehow avoided it, I hope one thing is still abundantly clear.

This election is a big fucking deal.

Regardless of which party you’re affiliated with or which candidate you support, this is the day where the rubber meets the road for democracy. This is where citizens exercise the power granted to them by the constitution.

As such, I encourage everyone to use it.

I’ve got no larger point to make today. I’ve got no sexy twist to put on it or larger narrative to explore. I’m just going to say what so many others have been saying for months now.

Go out and vote!

Get out there early. Bring water, snacks, and a lawn chair if you must. Stand in line as long as necessary. Just make sure you vote.

This is America. We value democratic principles. Those principles don’t work if people don’t vote. So please, my fellow Americans. I’ll say it again.

Go out and vote!

America will be better because of it. Thank you.

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Shaming Vs. Criticism: Why The Difference Matters

Let’s be honest. It’s very difficult to have honest, civil discourse with anyone these days. I won’t say it’s impossible, but it sure feels that way sometimes. Try expressing any opinion about any issue that’s even mildly controversial. Chances are you won’t spark a civil discussion. You’ll likely trigger a flame war, especially once Godwin’s Law comes into play.

Now, I’m not going to blame all of this on the internet and social media. I don’t deny that it plays a role, but let’s not miss the forest from the trees here. We, the users of these tools, are the ones driving the content. We’re the ones who guide these discussions towards angry, hate-filled outrage. The medium is only secondary.

There are a lot of reasons why civil discourse is so difficult, but I want to highlight just one that has become far more prominent in recent years. It’s an objectively bad trend and one I genuinely believe we need to reverse. It involves this inability to distinguish shaming someone from criticizing them.

It goes like this. Two people connect, either in person or via the internet. They have a disagreement. When there’s criticism, it tends to go like this.

Person A: I hold Opinion X.

Person B: I hold Opinion Y.

Person A: Why do you hold that opinion? I don’t understand how you could.

Person B: Well, it’s because of X, Y, and Z.

Person A: I don’t disagree with Y and Z, but I take issue with X.

Person B: Why is that?

Person A: Well, it goes like this…

Ideally, both people in this exchange get something out of this discourse. Person A offers Person B another point of view. Person B has their opinion challenged and they’re now in a position to defend it. In doing so, they may reaffirm or question their position. They may even convince Person A of the merit of their position.

That’s a healthy level of discourse, guided by fair and civil criticism. There’s certainly a place for that. I even see it on social media from time to time. However, that’s not what makes the headlines. It’s the shaming that usually generates the most noise. Shaming is very different from criticism, both by definition and by practice. At its worst, it goes like this.

Person A: I hold Opinion X.

Person B: I hold Opinion Y.

Person A: What? You’re a horrible human being for holding an opinion like that! You must be a fucking asshole fascist Nazi prick!

Person B: Fuck you! Your opinion is a goddamn atrocity! Only a true fucking asshole fascist Nazi prick would even entertain it! You should be fucking ashamed!

Person A: No, you should be ashamed! You should lose your job, your money, and all manner of sympathy for the rest of your fucking life!

Person B: No, you should be ashamed! You should cry like a baby, get on your knees, and beg everyone like me to forgive you! And you should also lose your job, money, and any semblance of sympathy until the end of time!

I don’t deny that’s an extreme example. I wish I were exaggerating, but I’ve seen stuff like this play out. I’ve seen it in comments section, message boards, Twitter threads, and Facebook posts. It’s not enough to just criticize someone for holding a different opinion. People have to outright shame them to the point where they’re mentally and physically broken.

In some cases, people look for that kind of rhetoric. Some people just love trolling others by posting opinions they know will piss people off and start a flame war. They don’t care about civil discourse. They just care about riling people up. It’s what gives them a cheap thrill.

Those people are trolls. The best thing anyone can do is ignore them.

They’re also in the minority. They may be a vocal minority, but they are the minority. Most people, in my experience, are inclined to be civil. They’ll give people a chance, even if they don’t agree with them. Things just go off the rails when they interpret criticism as shaming. It’s not always intentional, either. Some people just frame their criticism poorly, which sends all the wrong messages.

Whereas criticism is impersonal, shaming evokes some very basic emotions. There’s a tangible, neurobiological process behind it. It’s linked heavily to guilt, an objectively terrible feeling that most people try to avoid at all costs. Shame attempts to impose guilt. While there are some things we should definitely feel guilty about, holding certain opinions is rarely one of them.

Does someone deserve to be shamed for how they voted in the last presidential election?

Does someone deserve to be shamed for believing “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” was a terrible movie?

Does someone deserve to be shamed for thinking certain female characters in media are too sexualized?

Does someone deserve to be shamed for thinking they shouldn’t believe every claim a woman makes about being sexually harassed?

These are difficult, emotionally charged issues. With that kind of complexity, there’s going to be many points of criticism. Some have real merit and they should be discussed. That’s how we learn and make sense of our world and the people in it. Once shame enters the picture, though, the merit tends to vanish.

The problem is that once the shaming starts, it escalates quickly. It doesn’t even need to escalate that much before a person stops listening and gets defensive. At that point, there’s basically no going back. It’s less about understanding someone else’s perspective and all about defending yourself.

That’s not a metaphor, either. Like it or not, people take their opinions seriously. Attacking them with words, even if it’s through a computer screen, still feels like a physical attack on some levels. You’re not just attacking an opinion, anymore. You’re attacking a person. You’re throwing metaphorical punches that have non-metaphorical meanings to those you’re attacking.

With that in mind, look at it from a purely instinctual level. When someone is physically assaulting you, is your first inclination to engage in a reasoned, civil discussion? For most people, it’s not. You go into survival mode and that often involves attacking the attacker.

You throw your punches.

They throw theirs.

They call you a fascist, Nazi-loving bully.

You call them a worse fascist, Nazi-loving bully.

There’s no logic or reason to it. Once emotions override everything, criticism becomes a moot point. It’s all about hitting back to defend yourself. It’s not about being right. It’s about survival, at least from your brain’s perspective.

If there’s one silver lining, it’s that people get burned out quickly on this kind of discourse. You can only hear two sides call each other fascist for so long before the rhetoric loses its impact. It also gets boring. It takes too much energy to sustain that kind of hatred towards someone you don’t know. Most people who aren’t trolls have better things to do with their time.

As I write this, I understand that we live in contentious times. I see the same heated debates online and in person as everyone else. I know that civil discourse is a scant and precious commodity at the moment. That’s exactly why we should make the effort, regardless of what opinions we hold.

Once we stop shaming each other for daring to think differently, we’ll realize just how much we have in common. We don’t have to agree with one another. We don’t even have to like one another. We can and should still be civil with one another. That’s the only way we’ll make any real progress.

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Jack’s World: Why Conservatives Make Better Villains (For Now)

The following is a video I made for my YouTube channel, Jack’s World. It’s a video version of an article I wrote a while back. I added and removed a few details to the video. If necessary, I’ll do a follow-up. Enjoy!

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Filed under Current Events, extremism, human nature, Jack's World, media issues, philosophy, political correctness, politics, psychology, superhero comics, superhero movies, Villains Journey, YouTube

Why Conservatives Make Better Villains (For Now)

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We currently live in a golden age of villains. Between Thanos, Erik Killmonger, the Joker, and Walter White, there has been a veritable surge of complex characters who also happen to be compelling villains. While there’s still a place for the kind of pure evil that Disney villains have relied on for years, this trend in a more refined brand of villainy feels both refreshing and overdue.

I’ve written extensively on villains before. As a lifelong fan of superhero comics and movies, I’ve consumed, contemplated, and scrutinized hero/villain dynamics more than most. In doing so, I’ve noticed plenty of trends. Like most aspects of popular culture, it’s always evolving. Very few themes and details remain constant, especially when it comes to antagonists.

That said, there’s one trend in villains that has remained somewhat constant over the course of my lifetime. It’s also a trend that I see as intensifying, albeit in a subtle way. Some of it coincides with the growing complexity of villains in popular culture, but most of the trend precedes the current era of superhero-dominated media. If anything, superhero media helped accelerate it.

While most villains and heroes rarely identify with a certain political affiliation, it’s usually not hard to discern how most would vote in a contemporary election. I would even argue that it’s easier to surmise what a villain’s political leanings are compared to that of heroes. Take any villain from the past 10 years of movies, be they superhero or otherwise. Chances are a vast majority of them would identify as conservative.

Now, I understand conservatism is an exceedingly broad term. It has a dictionary definition, but as a political philosophy, there are many sub-sets, divisions, and variations. From fiscal conservatives to social conservative to neoconservatives, there are many wildly different ideologies that still identify as conservative. A few actively clash with one another.

Those complexities aside, there are some core tenants associated with conservatism and it’s those very tenants that make it such an effective basis for villains. Chief among conservative values is the idea that traditional norms, institutions, and values be maintained. Change isn’t actively dissuaded, but it is viewed with caution and suspicion. To be conservative is to affirm the status quo, to some extent.

That’s all well and good if the status quo is beneficial to everyone. It’s not so preferable for those who either fail to benefit or are actively screwed over by that same status quo. Since there has never been a society in history that has achieved perfect prosperity for everyone, regardless of their minority status, there’s bound to be people who get left behind.

In our own real-world history, we’ve seen people from those disaffected groups organize and fight the status quo to better their lives. That struggle has played out in the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, the movement for women’s rights, and the LGBT rights movement that’s still going on today. Those who oppose these movements tend to have, broadly speaking, conservative leanings.

Look at the groups that opposed the Civil Rights movement.

Look at those who actively oppose LGBT rights, women’s rights, and immigrants.

They all espouse rhetoric that would put them at odds with Superman, Captain America, and most other superheroes who value justice, truth, and peace. For some, their talking points sound like ideas that only villains in the mold of Lex Luthor would agree with. While not all of them identify as overtly conservative, the standard principles are there.

Anything too different from the status quo must be wrong or evil.

Anybody too different from the people everyone else in a society must be bad, evil, or devious.

Any idea, trend, or movement that is disruptive or deviant in any way is something to be opposed.

It doesn’t just manifest in superhero movies or underdog stories, either. Look at a movie like “Footloose.” In this story, the people who ban dancing are uptight, dogmatic, religious zealots who likely voted for Ronald Reagan in 1984 when this movie came out. They were the antagonists of that story and the kids, while not overtly liberal, dared to defy them.

It can even manifest subtly in other media. In kids shows like “Recess,” “Hey Arnold,” and “Rocko’s Modern Life,” the most common antagonists are uptight authority figures who have no tolerance for new ideas, big changes, or anything remotely fun. It’s hard to imagine any of these characters voting for someone who builds their slogan around change, reform, and reinvention.

They like things the way they are. Most of them benefit from the current system and will naturally seek to preserve their place in that system. While they won’t always see themselves as villains, it’s difficult for them to come off as heroes. You can only be so heroic when your side is closely aligned with predatory business practices, fun-hating religious zealots, and unabashed war-mongers.

That’s not to say it’s impossible for liberals to be villains too. It does happen and it can be done very well when done right. I would argue that Erik Killmonger in “Black Panther” was more in line with an extreme liberal revolutionary who didn’t just want to pursue change. I would make a similar argument for Ra’s Al Ghul in “Batman Begins.”

These characters didn’t just seek to change society from its current unjust state. They sought to violently destroy it and rebuild it from the ground up. That kind of liberalism exists in the real world and it can make for compelling villains.

However, the number of villains who align with the politics of Killmonger are far fewer than those who would align with the politics of Lex Luthor. In general, it’s easier to resist change rather than embrace it. It’s also necessary to some extent for those to resist change to be uptight authority figures who are okay with coercing others to maintain traditions. Logistically, the villains in many conflicts must be conservative.

Now, that’s not to say that villains will always lean conservative in popular media. What it means to be conservative changes over time. If you were to listen to conservative rhetoric 50 years ago, they would sound very different. They might even sound liberal by today’s standards.

The same goes for liberalism of previous eras. It hasn’t always been closely aligned with the politics surrounding minority rights, income inequality, or political correctness. The liberals of the 1920s would likely clash with the liberals of today. That’s just part of the ever-evolving nature of politics.

 

For the time being, though, being a villain in popular culture usually means being conservative to a certain extent. Conservatives are more likely to be the rich, greedy business people who would gladly burn down a rain forest or exploit slave labor to raise profits. Conservatives are more likely to be the rule-loving, fun-hating, curfew-enforcing religious zealots who wouldn’t mind electing theocrats with every election.

These types of individuals are far more likely to be villains in a story. At the very least, they’ll side or tolerate the villain. It’s easy to believe that those who side with the religious right and well-connected rich people will generally oppose a selfless, likable protagonist. From a narrative perspective, these kinds of villains are better in that we tend to root for heroes who oppose authoritarian bullies like that.

Again, it’s guaranteed that political and cultural trends will likely change what it means to be conservative, liberal, and everything in between. For the time being, if you were to bet on the political leanings of an antagonist, the odds are mostly in favor of that antagonist being conservative.

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Good People, Corruption, And Politics According To “Designated Survivor”

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Politics is a dirty, cut-throat world that often requires good people to compromise principles, integrity, and basic human decency. Most people wouldn’t argue that. Even before the internet, the corruption that often goes hand-in-hand with politics was well-documented. That corruption has only become more visible in recent years. It’s hard to go more than a week without seeing a fresh case of shady political conduct.

However, instead of dwelling on how ugly politics can get in the age of social media and outrage culture, I’d like to scrutinize the nature of that corruption. I don’t doubt the ugliness or absurdities that politics often breeds, but it also poses some interesting question.

Do politics naturally corrupt the people who get involved?

Is corruption in politics unavoidable?

Do politics only attract corrupt individuals?

Is it possible to get anything done in politics without some amount of corruption?

These are not easy questions to answer. You don’t have to look hard to find corrupt politicians or uncover cases where politics undermined efforts to pursue a public good. However, the extent and the process of that corruption is sometimes difficult to understand. Those of us not involved in politics have a hard time imagining how ordinary people could become so callous.

That’s why a show like “Designated Survivor” is so uniquely compelling. Even as a work of fiction, this show explores the complex world of politics within the most extreme of circumstances. There’s political drama, intense action, and ongoing mysteries that go beyond politics, but the latest season of the show accomplished something unique in terms of how people become corrupt.

The premise of the show starts simple. Tom Kirkman, played by Keifer Sutherland, works at the White House as a fairly low-level department head as the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. In terms of rank and influence, his authority is barely above that of a typical intern.

Then, prior to the annual State of the Union Speech, he gets picked for the unenviable role of designated survivor, which is a real thing. It’s a role meant to keep the government going in the worst of worst-case scenarios when there’s a catastrophic attack that kills the President, Congress, and much of the government. In the pilot episode, that’s exactly what happens.

Suddenly, this man who has never run for political office or served as an elected official is thrust into the role of President of the United States and after the worst attack in the history of the country. It’s overwhelming, to say the least. It makes for great TV drama, but it also creates a unique experiment in what power and politics do to an otherwise ordinary person.

Before Kirkman is thrust into this role, it’s established early on that he’s somewhat of an idealist. He identifies as an independent who is genuinely concerned with using the political process to pursue a public good. He also demonstrates early on that he has a strict understanding of right and wrong. For him, there’s no compromise or second-guessing when it comes to ethics.

On paper, he has the kind of character and ethics that most people want in a politician. Even the dire circumstances of his ascension are favorable because he never had to raise money from billionaires to finance his campaign. He doesn’t even have to make shady deals or back-stab anyone, which is also an all-too-common tactic in politics.

In a sense, Tom Kirkman comes into this position of power free of corruption. He is in a position where he can govern with his principles and ideals intact. This isn’t “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington.” This is Mr. Smith gaining unprecedented power without having to go through the corrupt process.

Throughout the first and second season of the show, Kirkman tries to do his job with his ideals intact. Whether it’s tracking down who blew up the Capitol or preventing an all-out war in East Asia, he has to constantly render difficult and weighty decisions that test his ability to keep being that affable man from the first episode.

For the most part, he succeeds on many fronts. The conflicts throughout the show often followed a common formula. President Kirkman faces a difficult issue. One side urges him to make one risky, politically-motivated decision. The other side urges something else that’s just as risky and just as political. Kirkman, unwilling to compromise his laurels, has to forge a third option.

Time and again, the integrity of his character shows. By the end of the second season, the extent of that integrity is beyond dispute. Then, the third season arrives, via Netflix, and everything changes and not just due to the sudden increase in profanity.

This season, unlike the previous two, cast aside the formula of the first two seasons, but not without reason. The entire third season is built around Kirkman running for re-election as an independent. At this point, all the good he did with respect to rebuilding the government after a devastating attack is a distant memory. It’s all politics now and this is where his integrity is pushed to the limit.

Almost immediately, Kirkman discovers that just being a man of integrity isn’t enough. The first episode of the third season really sets the tone, highlighting how easy it is for his ideals to get lost in the politics of an election. Just saying what’s true and right isn’t enough. It has to resonate with voters. That’s the only criterion that counts for anything.

His primary opponent in this season is Cornelius Moss. In the second season, he was an ally. He came in as a former president who knew the rigors of the job better than most. He was also an experienced politician. He had experienced the corrupt world of politics and he had successfully navigated it. As a result, he never comes off as having the kind of integrity and principles that Kirkman espouses.

For a while, Moss comes off as an outright villain in the world of “Designated Survivor” and in a season that introduces a full-fledged bioterrorist, no less. He conducts himself the same way most people expect a corrupt politician to behave. He doesn’t care about truth, integrity, or decency. He does whatever he must in order to win the election and secure his power.

In previous seasons, Kirkman would’ve sought a way to counter those tactics and come out with his integrity intact. It was part of what made him so respectable, as both a character and a politician. Season three makes it abundantly clear that this is not going to work this time. If Kirkman wants to win, he’ll have to compromise his principles.

Without spoiling too many plot points, I’ll just state that the conclusion of this struggle leaves Kirkman in a very vulnerable position. He’s no longer the same man he was when he became President. The attack on the Capitol that made him President was an extreme circumstance that he never could’ve known about. What happens with the election in season three is very much a byproduct of his own choices.

It doesn’t definitively answer those questions I listed earlier, but it does offer some insights. More than anything else, season three of “Designated Survivor” makes the case that the political process will ultimately corrupt anyone who gets involved. It doesn’t matter how principled or decent they are. The very nature of navigating power requires that people compromise their ideals.

It’s not just Tom Kirkman who struggles with it, either. The same supporting cast that helped him cling to his principles for the first two seasons, such as Aaron Shore, Emily Rhodes, and Seth Wright, end up compromising, as well. For some, it’s disconcerting. For others, it’s downright traumatic. In the final episodes of Season 3, the reactions of Emily Rhodes nicely mirror those who valued Kirkman’s character.

There’s now an unavoidable disconnect between what Kirkman says and what he does. Even the actions of Cornelius Moss are obscured when he too becomes a victim of shady political dealings. In the end, there’s no one left in “Designated Survivor” whose integrity hasn’t been compromised. There’s also no one left whose morals aren’t muddled by circumstances.

Even in a fictional context, the politics in “Designated Survivor” are surprisingly reflective of real-world complications. Like in the show, every political party or movement believes they’re right and their opponents are wrong. They believe in what they’re doing. They also believe that if they fail, then the wrong policies will prevail.

Conservatives, liberals, libertarians, and even anarchists are guilty of that flawed mentality. It’s one of the many reasons why politics tends to breed polarization. When people are so convinced that they’re the good guys, they become more willing to cross certain lines to defeat the bad guys. Tom Kirkman managed to avoid that for two seasons. He couldn’t in the third.

Whether or not he’s vindicated for his choices remains to be seen. Depending on whether the show gets a fourth season, it’s inevitable that he’ll face consequences for his choices. How he manages those consequences will reveal how much integrity he still has. If he plays his cards poorly, he may not have any left when all is said and done.

Designated Survivor” is a great show that explores difficult issues. Season three had its faults, but it marked a major turning point for Tom Kirkman. He is definitely not the same person he was in the show’s first episode, but he’s not quite at that point where we can say he’s lost sight of his laurels.

Both circumstances and politics did plenty to change Tom Kirkman over the course of the show. You could make the case that these forces corrupted him. After season three, you could also make the case that he’s now on the same path as Walter White from “Breaking Bad” in that these circumstances simply brought out a side of him that was always there.

Whatever the case, the ugliness of politics is something people have to navigate, both in the real world and the fictional world of “Designated Survivor.” Good people will keep trying to do good. Corrupt people will keep pursuing corrupt behavior. Politics, whatever form it takes, can only ever complicate that process.

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Why I’m Not Overly Excited About Voting

Vote

I’m bracing myself right now because I’m about to express a sentiment that’s going to put me at odds with a lot of people here in America. It’s a sentiment that runs contrary to some pretty loud rhetoric that has been brewing over the past two years. Some of it has even come from close family members. Knowing I’ll probably upset them too, I’ll just come out and say it.

I’m not that excited about voting.

I’ll give my fellow American’s a moment to stop fuming. For everyone else, I think a larger explanation is warranted. Bear with me because these are sensitive times for freedom, democracy, and everything in between.

Today, my country will conduct its mid-term election. It occurs every four years, right in between Presidential elections. These elections are a critical part of the foundation on which the United States government is built. These are the elections in which a sizable chunk of governors, senators, and representatives are elected.

While mid-term elections rarely generate the same voter turnout of Presidential elections, this year is different. The impact of the 2016 Presidential Election has galvanized the passions of both sides of the political spectrum. Conservatives seek to maintain their hold on power. Liberals seek to re-establish power after some of the worst setbacks in recent memory. To them, the stakes are very high.

I’m not entirely convinced of that. In fact, I feel like those stakes are so inflated that it makes me feel even less excited about voting. I see people in the media, on message boards, and within political circles calling this election the most important mid-term in history. That makes me suspect they have a narrow concept of history.

Now, I don’t deny the sincerity of those who say stuff like this. I get that they’re genuinely concerned about the direction of the country they love. They have this ideal vision for how they want America to be and getting like-minded people to vote is part of realizing that vision. Whether it’s reigning in the President, outlawing abortion, or legalizing weed, they have a fantasy that they want to make reality.

As someone who writes a lot about the sexy kind of fantasies, I can appreciate that to some extent. When I was younger, I even entertained similar visions. As I’ve gotten older, though, I’ve become less enchanted by my country’s democratic processes. The reasons for that have less to do with the content of those visions and more to do with the unique quirks of American elections.

The first complications surrounding American democracy, and one that sets it apart from other democratic countries, is that we don’t elect the President by a popular vote. We use something called the Electoral College. Simply put, our votes don’t go towards who we want to be President. They go towards electing the people who go onto elect the President.

If that sounds confusing, then you’re starting to see why I’m skeptical about voting. The logic behind the Electoral College made sense 200 years ago when trying to ensure that heavily populated states didn’t gain too much power over all the others. A lot has changed in 200 years and I’m not just talking about the prevalence of powdered wigs.

Since I became eligible to vote, I’ve seen two of the past three Presidents get elected without winning the popular vote. That means the candidate that got the most votes did not win the election. Call me cynical, but that does not sound very democratic.

To be fair, the Electoral College applies only to the President. Other representatives like governors, senators, and mayors are elected by way of popular vote. While that is more democratic, on paper, the logistics still aren’t ideal. That’s due to additional factors like gerrymandering, a practice that dilutes democracy to the point of watered down light beer.

Simply put, it ensures that your vote only partially matters because you didn’t necessarily pick the candidate. The candidate picked you by making sure you lived in their voting district. It’s a big reason why incumbents have such high re-election rates. It doesn’t matter how voting trends change. All that matters is aligning districts with a certain type of voters.

It’s not quite on the same level as the phony elections conducted by dictators, but it sends a painfully clear message. No matter how passionate you are at voting, there’s a good chance that it has little bearing on the outcome. That doesn’t mean your vote is thrown away. It still counts. It just doesn’t matter and I’m not the only one who has reached this conclusion.

Most of the time, you live in an area where the overwhelming majority of people align themselves with a particular part of the political spectrum. Districts located in rural areas almost always vote conservative. Districts located in cities almost always vote liberal. That divide has only widened over the years, especially since I began voting.

Some of that goes beyond direct influences like gerrymandering and voter suppression tactics. None of those tactics would even work if not for the predictable psychology of the average voter. In a perfect world, every voter goes to the polls as an objective, impartial citizens who weighs the worth of every candidate. However, we live in an imperfect world full of many imperfect people.

According to analysis of past elections, most people adopt the voting patterns of their parents. It’s not a minor factor, either. By a substantial margin, your vote was mostly determined when you were still a kid. That’s not a flaw in the system as much as it is a flaw in perspective.

If you grow up in a conservative environment, then you’ll vote in accord with conservative candidates. The same applies if you live in a liberal environment. The area I live is pretty liberal, for the most part. I’ve seen the polls for my candidates. The outcome is pretty much a given, no matter how I vote.

On top of all that, and it’s more than enough to temper my enthusiasm for democratic processes, voting in America is extremely inconvenient. It’s not a national holiday. It’s on a Tuesday in the middle of the week and often involves standing in long lines at poorly-staffed polling places. Sure, you can cast an absentee vote, but that process has its own set of complications.

Taken together, I find it frustrating, as a voter. The older I get, the more resigned I’ve become. Each passing year, I see more and more flaws in the system. I see reprehensible human beings and shameless hypocrites win elections, time and again. I also see the list of candidates and groan at my lack of options.

Despite all this, I’m still told that voting is important. Voting is what separates us from tyranny. Ignoring the historical fact that some tyrants come to power through democracy, I’m supposed to believe that my vote will help further the ideals my country espouses. As much as I love my country, I just have a hard time believing that.

Don’t get the wrong idea. I’m pretty cynical about voting and the current democratic processes in place for the United States. I’m not completely resigned, though. I still intend to vote, but I’m under no illusions. I know it won’t change much in the grand scheme of things. Like renewing my driver’s license, it’s part of my civic duty.

Regardless of who wins and who gets voted out, I can already sense where this narrative will go from here. I have a feeling that as soon as this day passes, the 2020 Election will be subsequently billed as the most important election in history. Just like before, the act of voting will be framed as taking part in a battle against a fascist army led by Darth Vader and Joseph Stalin.

That narrative, in my opinion, will do more to undermine voting than help it in the long run. At the end of the day, elections come and go. Leaders change, politics evolve, and demographics shift the cultural landscape. Not every election will go down in history as the most important. The act of voting in those elections won’t matter that much in the long run. It’s still worth doing, but it’s also worth maintaining perspective along the way.

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Politics, Safety, And The Impossible Paradox

political_debates_in_the_usa_by_brokenteapot

As I’ve said before, I really don’t like talking about politics. I’ve learned over the course of my life, often the hard way, that nothing makes people less comfortable, less horny, and more insufferable than politics. It couldn’t have less sex appeal without involving a clogged toilet, a dead rabbit, and Sean Hannity.

For the most part, I try not to get too political on this blog. I’d much rather be talking about comic books, sex robots, and Leslie Knope. However, there are times when I feel compelled to say something about a particular issue. I often do that with gender issues like feminism because that indirectly ties to the sexier topics I talk about. I try not to take too strong a position. More than anything else, I try to give perspective.

That’s what I did with my post about the health care debate. I tried to be fair to both sides. I tried to frame the issue in a way that both Michael Moore and Ted Nugent could appreciate. I didn’t offer any easy fixes. I didn’t try to denigrate one political ideology over the other. I just tried to point out the inherent flaws in the issue itself.

In the course of writing about that particular debate, I wanted to apply it to a few other issues. However, I quickly realized that there was no way I could do so in a single article and remain concise. When I write on this blog, I tend to assume that part of the audience is drunk, horny, or some combination of the two. That means I can’t drone on for too long, even though I have a habit of doing that when it comes to comics.

Health care is just one issue. Granted, it’s an exceedingly complex issue, but it’s still one issue. The underlying argument I made was that, beyond the complexity, both sides of the political spectrum have the same goal. The problem is that what they want isn’t just logistically difficult. It’s physically impossible.

It’s another hard truth, one that I’d argue is even harder than the truth surrounding O.J. Simpson. Sometimes, even when the politics involved have a noble goal, the particulars of an issue are just beyond our capabilities as humans to produce. We humans can do all sorts of amazing things, from the Great Pyramids to solar-powered vibrators. However, we are a species of many limits, many of which we often fail to acknowledge.

This leads directly to an even bigger picture, of sorts. It also involves something that’s currently impossible in a world without superheros, super-powers, or computers that can’t be hacked for hilariously stupid reasons. Until we start enhancing ourselves, it’ll remain impossible for the foreseeable future.

I call it the impossibility paradox because most people, regardless of their political persuasion, act as though the impossible aspects aren’t there. They’re often smart, driven people who are every bit as driven as their ideological opponents. They work so hard to accomplish something that’s physically impossible. Then, they’re surprised when they come up short.

On top of that, the people they claim to represent or help get upset with them because they didn’t accomplish what they promised. Never mind that what they promised was never possible to begin with. Human beings just aren’t that reasonable, even if they like to pretend that they are. Everybody is still subject to the constraints of reality and, like a moody dominatrix, it doesn’t mind telling us who’s dominant.

Now, apply that dynamic to what might be an even bigger issue than health care for some people. Whether you’re gun-toting conservative or a pot-smoking liberal, most agree that a central function of any government entity is to keep citizens safe.

No state, kingdom, or Dungeons and Dragons guild can survive without providing some level of safety. People, society, and the economy can’t function unless there’s some level of safety. Nobody wants to make iPhones and exchange brownie recipes if there are barbarian hordes just a few miles away, ready to raze your home to the ground.

Since the dawn of civilization, every functioning society has had to provide some measure of safety and protection to its citizens. In exchange, citizens pay taxes to the state so that it can have the resources to perform these duties. Ideally, they’ll use those taxes carefully in accomplishing this goal. In the real world, however, nobody will ever say with a straight face that all taxpayer money is spent wisely.

However, this is where even the anti-government, Ron Swansons of the world have to face another cold, hard fact of reality. It’s every bit as inescapable as the health care debate. Even if, however unlikely, a government spent every penny of taxpayer money wisely and dedicated every resource into ensuring safety and security, it still wouldn’t be enough. That’s because of one simple truth.

“Nobody knows ALL the facts and nobody CAN know all the facts.”

If that sounds a bit too similar to the advice I recently gave on making sense of the world, then bear with me. There’s a reason for that. It’s similar, but not the same because the scope of the issue is different. Every issue takes on twisted, often frustrating new dimensions when politics enter the picture. Just ask Major League Baseball.

When it comes to safety, though, there’s an inescapable complication that has plagued every government entity that ever existed and will continue to plague governments until our robot overlords take over. To provide safety, you need to know everything about a situation and have the resources to deal with it. Unfortunately, or fortunately for privacy-minded folks, nobody can know everything about a given situation.

Nobody can know for sure when and where a terrorist attack will occur.

Nobody can know for sure whether or not a rival nation is plotting against them.

Nobody can know for sure whether a handful of countries are colluding to undermine them.

Nobody can know for sure whether that weird-looking guy walking down the street is about to go on a shooting spree or just skipped laundry day.

There are just so many unknowns in the world of geopolitics. There are a lot of unknowns for individuals as well. Hell, we still can’t figure out just how useful or useless pubic hair is. How are we supposed to know everything about the threats to our safety and sovereignty as people?

That’s just it, though. We can’t know. It’s physically impossible for any one human or group of humans to know everything about a certain situation, individual, or threat. Sure, the CIA could bug your phone and hack your browser history. That may even give them plenty of reason to believe that you’re conspiring with a hidden network of BDSM enthusiasts to take over the entire state of Montana.

At the end of the day, though, even the CIA can’t know for sure and that has proven costly throughout history. No agency, no matter what they call themselves or what sort of fancy acronyms they use, can know everything about a situation. I’m sure they’d like to know. If you’re of the mind of Alex Jones, you might even believe they’re working with aliens to remedy that.

Even if they did have some way to read all our thoughts, there’s still the matter of sifting through random daydreams and outright plots. Honestly, who hasn’t contemplated whipping out a can of lighter fluid and setting a coffee shop on fire because they got your order wrong? The difference between those thoughts and real action, though, is huge.

I’m not saying that governments and police forces should give up trying to keep people safe. We still need some measure of safety in order to function as a society. The problem is that because of this safety paradox, we end up in these brutal cycles that only make us more fearful. It goes like this.

  • Some strange, complex, dire threat is out there and the media blows it up to scare people

  • The people demand action from their politicians and authority figures

  • Those politicians and authority figures try to respond, if only to maintain their hold on power

  • Those politicians and authority figures fail to provide perfect safety because doing so is impossible

  • The public gets upset with the existing people in power and looks for alternatives

  • Some new power-seeking people enter the picture, making impossible promises to fix impossible situations’

  • The citizens, desperate to fix the impossible problem, put these people into power because anything seems like an improvement over the status quo

  • The people who made the impossible promises, predictably, fail to deliver and generate another round of disillusion

  • The cycle starts all over again

This is part of why congress’ approval rating is so low. It’s also why western countries keep cycling through political parties, constantly voting new people into office in hopes that they’ll find a way to solve impossible problems. In every case, they are unable to deliver. Most people don’t see the impossible logistics, though, so they just look to the next power-broker who can deliver.

For now, we’re very much at the mercy of impossible situations and the people who claim they can solve them. Some of these situations will become less impossible as we develop better tools. Until then, though, let’s be mindful of the impossible demands we make on those we entrust with our safety. It’s often when we have impossible standards that we doom ourselves to unlimited disappointment.

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