The horse race of politics
So very often politics is covered like a horse race. It’s about seeing who is in the lead as they round the bend and head for the home stretch. The track is seen as the political campaign with the finish line being election day.
And when the horses reach the finish line, the next set of horses line up, the commentators start giving the public statistics and the betting odds of winning. And people line up putting their money on their favorite horse. And it starts all over again.
We live in an era of continuous campaigning. It runs from one election right into the next. When we aren’t talking about presidential politics, we are looking at the mid-term elections. And when they happen, we are back to talking about the presidential election.
The questions never end and are always the same — How does this event affect the election? How will this event play out?
The people who work on campaigns ask these questions and more. Can this event be used in our next fundraising effort? Will this draw voters to our cause or draw voters away from our opponent?
For those who understand the nature of campaigning and politics, they like to think of the campaign in a similar way to a chess match — thinking out several moves in advance, pondering what your opponent’s move is going to be and being prepared to counter it.
The goal for campaigners is to control events as much as possible, control the message, and determine in advance how events will play out. In essence, there is choreography in politics and campaigning.
And often it is fake. The words in speeches are used on purpose to convey specific reactions — to deter from other words and lines, to create an emotional response. All the better when the words are empty platitudes that allow people to put their own meaning on the term and think that the candidate cares about them.
The way a room is set up to create an impression of a large crowd — usually by selecting a smaller room so that there is standing room only and the people present get the impression that the crowd exceeded expectations. Oh, the expectations game. Lower the expectations and do what you can to rise above them. It’s an old game in politics.
And most importantly, draw attention to your candidate. Attention means credibility. With credibility comes influence, money, and votes. The easiest way to gain credibility is by getting someone with credibility to respond to you, thus transferring credibility to your candidate. Say or do something controversial — it’s guaranteed to draw attention to the campaign. And when the attention is on your candidate and campaign, guess who is in control of the message? You are. The campaign the controls the message, is winning the horse race and is most likely to win the election.
In politics, you are either in the lead and winning, or you are responding to your opponent and losing. There are no other options. Elections are set up to produce winners and losers.
Yet, this is not normal. And it is not like most of life. Nor should it be. It is unhealthy for a society to devote so much time, energy, and attention to politics and campaigns. It does not advance a society, but creates division and mistrust. And when trust is lacking in a society, an organization, or even between two people, we all lose. Relationships break apart because of a lack of trust. Organizations fall apart and die because of a lack of trust. Societies are no different.
We have a serious lack of trust in our society — Democrats don’t trust Republicans. Republicans don’t trust Democrats. Evangelical and Mainline Christians don’t trust each other. The Administration doesn’t trust people within the government or the media and vice versa. Some American Christians don’t trust Muslims, even Muslims born in the US and vice versa. Some Americans don’t trust immigrants, and the feeling is mutual the other way too. The list of who lacks trust in others is long.
This isn’t new. This is a part of humanity, but the spot light seems to be on it more so than previously. These mistrusting attitudes are more out in the open than they were, even until recently. But they aren’t new. They were always there.
Mistrust is as old as humanity. The first sin recorded in the Bible is essentially a sin of mistrust.
Yet, it doesn’t have to be this way. This doesn’t mean that we blindly trust everything and everyone. Trust is a response. A response to what happens to us first. It is in our nature to offer the possibility of trust to others when we receive something first. In theology, we talk about this in terms of the idea that God gives us faith first, and we respond in trust. God always keeps God’s promises and so we respond to God’s call in our lives with trust — trust that God has our best interest in mind, regardless of how circumstances may turn out. Even when things don’t go the way we expect or want. Even when events are detrimental to us — or at least we perceive them that way.
So how does society change? One person at a time. With you and with me. It starts by you and me taking the first step — to treat people with respect, to be honest, to empower others, to offer forgiveness, to treat people with grace, to show real concern, to ask questions, to learn how people come to their conclusions. It is the first step in building trust — to take a risk and be vulnerable. Imagine how the world can change when a handful of people start to live this way. Imagine what the internet would look like if we stopped trying to be right and instead we started treating people the way we claim we believe. Imagine what would happen. Then stop imagining and start doing it.
Originally published at laceduplutheran.com on February 5, 2018.