A Politician, a Journalist, and a Citizen Walk into a Room

canstockphoto11130449My face was hot and red. I began muttering to myself and rolling my eyes. My internal argument grew rancorous: stay or leave, ask a question or angrily scroll notes in my notebook for a pointed email later on. In my efforts to become a better citizen, I attended a political meeting about local issues. I left, bewildered by my sense of rage and ashamed that I could barely contain it. I’m not known for my patience or for suffering fools gladly, but sometimes I can be very foolish of my own accord.

Perhaps it is that for the last two years, we’ve been exposed to the ugly underbelly of American life so relentlessly. The ignorant have bragged about their ignorance. The hateful have openly celebrated their hate. The wealthy have brazenly claimed their gluttony and disregard for the average American. The incompetent have seated themselves at the table of power. A minority of citizens got the spokesperson and president they wished for: crude, insulting, illiterate, impulsive, lacking in any insight that doesn’t benefit him or shine the light on him.

canstockphoto198403With him, came the corporate looters, the big game hunters, the vacuous, pretty women who have deluded themselves into thinking screen time means power, the braggarts who suggest education and reading are elitist, the conspiracy theorists and other-blamers, the couch potatoes who laze about watching television and Twittering themselves. American life as reality TV. It cannot help but infect even the most reasonable among us.

I used to think of myself as a reasonable person, but I just don’t know anymore. My life experiences have put me in the path of a wide range of people. The people who have made me angriest are those who talk down to me. A person could call me every name in the book, but once they impugn my intelligence, they have an enemy for life. This is not to say that my intelligence is any more significant than that of anyone else. It is that, of all the aspects of self one can choose to value, this is the one I value most – my ability to learn, to think things through, to see a broader perspective.

Back to the meeting. There were two speakers. One was a former journalist who had worked for both the metro area’s major newspapers for decades, served on various citizens’ councils and leagues, and worked as a public affairs writer. The other was a career politician who had been a state senator and was now serving as a county commissioner. They were each allowed presentation time to talk about regional and urban governance, each taking a different tack.

I won’t go into the specifics of the issues, because they’re not interesting and not the point of the post. The journalist spoke evenly, presented the information and sat down. He reminded me of an old school union guy I used to know – just laying it out there and hey, if you were on bcanstockphoto6721118oard, cool. I didn’t sense any partisanship and he later described himself as a centrist.

The politician got up and two minutes into his presentation, I began scrawling angrily in my notebook. There are a lot of phallocentric words. I think I used most of them. It was childish, but this rage came over me. He was talking to a group of mostly older people as if they were on a used car lot, needing to be pushed and prodded towards a sale.

It took a little more time than that to figure out that he was a Republican politician. The phrases started creeping in – all very benign out of context, like democracy, but I kept waiting for him to pull a flag out of his ass and start singing his own version of the national anthem, Fergie-style. I was, in today’s vernacular, triggered. I could feel this explosive rage building up inside me, this fierce anger at the emotional manipulations of politicians and being so very tired of the dumbed-down discourse.

Perhaps it is the nature of the beast when one is a politician. Everything is sound bites and bumper stickers. Like teachers who have to focus on the lowest performers, politicians speak to the least-informed among their voters. The other thing is that they talk constantly and repetitively. If there is one thing I believe about talking, it is that the more of it you do, the less time you have to be introspective and thoughtful or adaptive to the reality at hand.

canstockphoto13586258Even with politicians I respect, I always wonder why they spend so much time talking and so little time listening. It seems like it would impair one’s ability to be a good representative. Part of the problem, of course, is that money puts them in constant campaign mode. They become walking bumper stickers for half of whatever term they serve.

This is all to say, that the person who gets screwed in all this is the well-informed centrist voter. If we’re not being condescended to by politicians, we’re being called elitists by those who seem to find education of any ilk an affront to their personal life choices.

I thought about the two styles of presentation. One was low-key, fact-ridden, and unemotional – leaving us the room to decide. The other was pushy, condescending, and in the end, unconvincing. Mostly because I thought he talked like a complete and utter wanker. And therein lies another issue – how to separate the message from the medium.

There’s a lingual patter that originated at the margins but has now infested everyday dialogue, language that quickly indicates liberal or conservative. Through repetition and a lack of imagination, we often parrot language that we associate with “our side”. In two words, one can tell the team you’re playing for. Snowflake or racist. Should it be that easy? Nobody wants to be reduced down by one word to a political chess piece.

It took me off guard, my reflexive, angry reaction. It wasn’t just one politician. It was the language of all politicians. It was all the impulsive Twittering, the constant outrage, and canstockphoto7546080the addiction to hyperbole. It was the intent to masquerade parochialism as patriotism and discrimination as religion. It was the exploitation of fear and the careless use of damning terminology. It was hearing a country redefined by the language of political expediency – a language that should leave me cold under any other circumstances.

Where was that valued intelligence when I angrily scrawled this guy is an utter dick in my notebook? I’m only grateful that I still have the ability to feel shame at a time when shamelessness seems to be a national pastime.

What’s your take on political discourse these days?

Any advice on how not to be perpetually angry about it?

28 thoughts on “A Politician, a Journalist, and a Citizen Walk into a Room

  1. I hear you and feel the same — about what’s going on in your country and about the things I don’t like in mine. I too get angry and frustrated and sometimes want to just slam my hand down on the table and give up in disgust. Then I realize that’s not going to help and I haul myself back. I don’t know how to stop getting angry about it because I’m afraid I have to disengage completely in order to do that. And that wouldn’t be productive at all. I’m open to suggestions too.


    1. Yes, it’s that impossible balance between being engaged and keeping some perspective. Things have just felt intolerable in the wake of the student murders. That we have to wait for children to get anyone’s attention about the lax gun laws in this country is embarrassing. And politicians just won’t shut up – stupid and ignorant things are being said and Tweeted by the minute. I’m going to take a break from the news and politics (no more meetings for another week or two) and embrace a little joy before diving back into the fray. Because I can’t give up and cede the future of my own child to unethical and amoral grownups.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You’re right Michelle. One does have to take the occasional break or risk just going mad. None of us can cede the future that all children are entitled to — not even people like me without children.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I know people like to say “but the children” to engage sentiment, but closer to home is what happens to the elderly, of which I will eventually be a member, when the safety nets and care programs are slashed in favor of tax cuts and military hardware. We’re all in the same damned leaky boat.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. So with you on this! I love this post (I really admire your writing). The disdain for people with education, the contempt for scientists and rigorous thinkers, the outright hostility toward anyone who isn’t white or male just takes my breath away. I feel like I’m gut-punched several times a day. What scares me most is the campaign against reality. Don’t like the facts? Bring out alternative facts. Don’t like facts in the news? Call it fake news. Don’t want to be questioned? Manipulate the questioner into believing he or she not only isn’t right to question, he or she is unpatriotic, a snowflake, a libtard, or ______ (insert favorite epithet). This is abusive behavior and it suddenly is modus operandi. The only way I find peace is to stay informed using credible, factual news sources and then refuse to take the bait from those who go fishing for a fight. I also have to avoid the talk shows. And I check out Randy Rainbow’s latest parody song (check him out on Facebook) to laugh when I feel like crying. And I write at least one politician a week to plead for an end to this insanity.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thanks for the kind words on the writing. And THANK YOU for directing me to Randy Rainbow. I’ve just spent the last half hour laughing at his videos. Maybe that’s what I need to find again – a sense of humor.

      What I find so demoralizing is the willingness of people to believe any old damn thing, as long as it reinforces their own beliefs, without proof, evidence, or facts. And then they have the balls to suggest educating oneself is an elitist hobby. Just shameless.

      I have tried to follow every bout of anger with some sort of constructive action, but there aren’t enough actions to keep up with the constant stream of incompetence, malevolence, and corruption. When I get to this point, I just have to remind myself to take a break, breathe, and imagine a world where knowledge wins, compassion rules, and society evolves. And then jump back into it.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Indeed, it seems the incompetence, malevolence, and corruption outnumber and outweigh the constructive actions we can take and yet we must take them. Maybe each of our positive actions can snowball into something redemptive (that’s what I keep telling myself while each day’s news proves otherwise, at least in the short-term.) “The willingness of people to believe any old damn thing…without proof, evidence, or facts” really is astonishing. Too many people believe “the good old days” can and should come back, the “good old days” being the days when white men could do whatever the hell they wanted without repercussion because women and people of color had no voice, no agency. Why do people believe they, too, can become rich and elite without education, hard work, or fairness? And so glad you found some light in Randy Rainbow. It’s hard to have a sense of humor when people’s lives are being destroyed, neighbors are being deported, and atrocious criminals are defended and even celebrated. Thank goodness we have you.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. As far as many politicians are concerned, we live in “post fact” times. Truth is what we decide it is, or what we can scream and browbeat others into accepting. I’m beyond anger now. It’s just a sh*tshow. I hope the country can recover some degree of civility for its citizens, and some respect and trust among others. Hard to be the “leader” when it’s only because we have the biggest bombs.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I always think about the fact that the country is us and we are the country, so if civility is to be returned, it has to start with the individual. Knowing this is why I felt rather ashamed that I got sucked into the rage. We can’t expect of others what we don’t expect of ourselves.
      Your comment about a post-fact world reminds me of the rule of consistency. I worked in a niche university library with a population of very smart, but entitled users. Whenever they’d try to skirt library policies, I’d just repeat the policy again and again. It gave them nowhere to go. Years later I learned the exact same process in parenting classes. I’ve become quite comfortable in conversations saying “That’s not true. That’s not supported by the evidence.” Over and over again. Yeah, I’m a blast at parties.


  4. Such a fine post. Michelle. I don’t know the answer to the anger either. I’ve just detached myself because I think the alternative would be to become a dedicated activist. I don’t have the heart or energy for that either. Even sitting with one’s own political party members, like-minded, kindly people, at a meeting can make me feel like the life-blood is draining out of me and pooling under my chair. So where does that leave us – writing essays or fiction that well and truly skewer the user-abuser politicians. They can’t stand ridicule for one thing. On the whole, though, I feel myself adopting the ostrich position. Not very laudable.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Tish. It is an impossible line to walk – between either hiding under the covers or committing oneself, body and soul, to improving the world. I’m trying to not live in an either-or place, but it is a challenge to try to improve a system than can easily swallow a person whole.
      I am not going to jump on people who don’t want to deal with it – better to keep a few people sane and not enraged!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. It occurred to me while reading your post, Michelle, that one of the reasons the Parkland students sounded so articulate and wise (which they surely are) was the contrast with the politicians ad shills they were speaking to—and that we’re so accustomed to hearing. The students haven’t learned how to dissemble, or how to dodge a question, or how to cover up a lack of integrity with petty finger-pointing and personal attacks. Let’s hope they never learn that, and that seeing honest and earnest activism inspires the rest of us to look at little closer at the empty suits who are in charge. I don’t have any advice about how to not be angry—since I spend a lot of time in that state myself—but I wonder if focusing on the sincere engagement of these activist students might temper our ire a bit.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It seems like something happens once you get ensconced in a system. As I travel further into politics, I start seeing the language patterns change, the automatic responses, the knee-jerk answers. People have conflated loudness and intransigence with competence. Those who have the temerity to say they don’t have all the answers or that they’ve changed their minds are cast as weak or wishy-washy. And I’m talking about thinking people, not people who say whatever they have to, in order to get what they want.

      I already see, sadly, the fading of those young voices in the national media. We have a very short attention span in this country. I hope they have the energy to push through the torpor. Until then, I’m a behind-the-scenes activist, writing checks and letters, and trying not to blow my top in meetings.


  6. I have an embarrassing confession to make. I think “snowflake” is a wonderful pejorative!

    I’d like to respond more intelligently to your post, Michelle … but frankly I can’t. It’s about the fundamental suckageness of life in modern-day America, and politicians, and… Oh dear. I just realized I am so COMPLETELY AND UTTERLY FED UP WITH IT ALL that I can’t even offer up a coherent explanation as to why I can’t contribute even a little bit intelligently.

    Maybe I’m dehydrated. I’m going to drink a glass of water. That’s the smartest thing I can think of right now … Taking life one sip at a time and hoping it doesn’t up and drown me, or spill down the front of my blouse.


    1. I find the reductive nature of current political dialogue to be pointless. And while I get where people are coming from about making the “snowflake” insult a positive one, I’ve never been on board with the idea that one can recapture the power of a negative word by adopting its usage. Plus, the fact that these pejoratives are repeated in every venue and the person acts like they’ve come up with some original idea irritates the hell out of me. It’s meme culture all over – the height of Facebook intellectual discourse.

      I might be dehydrated as well. It’s all the piss and vinegar.


      1. Lol – I agree – and you misunderstood. When I call someone a snowflake I am not being friendly. It’s just that the context is a little different … You may know that I’m involved in dog rescue, and one of the things I do is process very detailed applications to adopt our dogs. I’ve been out of rescue for a few years, and I’m alarmed, dismayed, appalled – all the worried words – to note that every second applicant aged 25 or less is looking for a “service dog” – by which they usually mean an emotional support dog. I’ve also been encountering a lot of young people who are all wrapped up in Anxiety.

        I know, I sound mean and judgmental, and I don’t really have a right to … I know what anxiety is. Depression ditto. I’ve fought them all my life, and I don’t function without mind-altering drugs. It’s just … dang, Michelle, with so many of them it just seems like a socially conditioned response the the fact that life sometimes sucks. It also seems, in many cases, that their entire identity is wrapped up in their Anxiety. Is the world really becoming so much worse? Or are we, as a species, becoming enfeebled by too much ease and comfort and convenience?

        Anyway. Those are the “snowflakes” of which I speak … Not everyone who claims to suffer from anxiety, depression, or related ills … just some of them – made fragile by a learned helplessness that makes my antennae want to pretzel.


  7. Not sure what the answer is. I think both Dem and Rep parties have become prostitutes for whatever special interest groups that will pay them. Spouting platitudes, dodging questions, and doing little for the average person, it’s easy to see why so many people are disillusioned, frustrated, and angry. Toss in an economy that has most people sprinting on the hampster wheel to stay in place, and media pushing extremes and frothing outrage, and here we are. I think we can all continue to spread facts, support moderate non politicians if they run for office, and try to be nice people in our dealings with others.


    1. Unfortunately, the extremes always get the attention. That’s nothing new in society or media. Moderates won’t start seeming appealing until most of us are roaming the streets homeless and the west coast has been nuked by North Korea. Ouch. Even for me, that’s a little cynical.
      I think it starts at local politics, which is where I’m digging in now. Unfortunately, the national side of things have gotten so toxic, that it’s all running downhill. I think the greatest loss in this country starting with the State Dept. is the loss of diplomatic skills. And in the face of incivility and instability, it’s what we need most as a country and individuals.


  8. I had to read this and then wait overnight to comment. Old trick I learned in the Army. LOL

    I have to say that I find the whole current lack of leadership in the US political system distressing. I see the jeers and experience the laughs at the current situation daily here in the Netherlands. We are on the world stage of entertainment and not leadership! Most days I am embarrassed that I am American, scared that we will be in yet another war which will see no end, now funded with a crazy $700 billion budget. That many Americans think we should be scared of everyone except those that look and act just as we do, and then those people turn a gun on us. Who do we trust?

    I get angry too! I channel those angry moments into letters/emails to congressmen even the White House, never to receive and answer. Those few times I have received an answer it is so off point from the original letter that I wonder if anyone is listening.

    Each of us as citizens have the choice each day on how we will live. We can make the small changes that will lead to bigger changes. Being mad is part of it. It can fuel each of us to make good outside the normal box, based on facts, changes. It helps us to funnel out the noise we hear each day to the level we can focus our efforts.

    The fact that you wrote things in your notebook, means that you care! You have seen through the murk of deception and you are learning how to funnel that energy to a new direction. Keep up the fight, keep going, we are all here to support your effort in the ways that we can! Keep writing!


    1. I often use the same trick when writing angry letters – hold it until morning to ensure I don’t sound completely rabid. Any responses I’ve received from politicians have been form letters that indicate someone doesn’t give a shit. Thanks, Senator Blah Blah.

      Part of this whole process has been trying to actually learn the intricacies of politics from the ground up. Where do we go so completely wrong? Hence the need to take notes everywhere I go. I like, too, that when politicians see me taking notes, it puts them on notice a little bit.

      I think I’d be embarrassed to identify as an American abroad, so that’s understandable. I would imagine a lot of Americans have “become” Canadians while they travel. Sorry, Canada.

      Right now, it would be easy to ignore what is happening in the White House, because all the incompetence and corruption hasn’t started rolling downhill yet. As a middle class, white American, I have yet to be smacked upside the head with tangible changes in my current life. But it’s already here for immigrants and it’s coming for the rest of us, so we just have to do the best we can do to effect change. And take a few naps here and there, because it’s exhausting!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I wondered if there was a Q & A after the presentation. From your description, I’d guess not, but … oh! That could have been a fine way to focus some of the rage into an intelligent response. Or to thank the journalist for his unbiased approach (hint, hint).


    1. There was a Q & A, where we had to write questions on cards and someone picked them up. But sadly, I was too enraged to write anything coherent or thoughtful. And therein lies the rub. I need to learn how to refocus that anger quickly and efficiently. Where I’m at now, it just makes me more stupid. I sent the journalist an email and yes, if I could approach it like someone just trying to get facts, that would likely be helpful. This time was a fail for me, though. Except for the lesson. There’s always a lesson…

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Michelle you expressed it all quite coherently. Sometimes it feels as though our politicians aren’t people at all but Stepford robots. The saddest thing about that is how much their supporters seem to fall right into step and are nothing more than echo chambers for the idiots they vote for. There are glimmers of hope. Alabama could have gone to Roy Moore and while it wasn’t a huge victory, the mobilization of minority women voters there was inspiring. And…There are Republicans who are not in step with this administration or the far right movement in their party–Kasich, Graham (who’d have thought?) and plenty of them not active at the moment, or who have served other administrations and have been forthcoming in their criticism of this Trump White House. I’m a little worried that the Democrats are going to flub again and not pay attention to the people who will be looking for a change from this guy because we will need all those votes in one place this time and we need an electorate that feels represented. I just keep hoping for DT’s karma to come back around to him, because when it does, that is gonna be YUGE. Keep fighting the good fight and writing the coherent and thoughtful posts you do. We need you and appreciate your articulate and motivating posts Michelle.


    1. Thanks, Ilona. I don’t share any optimism about Republican politicians. Despite what they say, they fall in line on every vote along party lines. Actions over words. Except Collins, McCain, and Murkowski, but even they went along on that tax bullshit bill (except McCain who was absent).
      I really hope for all this griping and kvetching, voters show up at the polls in November. That’s my biggest concern right now – that our actions match our words, hence my involvement in voting rights organizations. Thus far, I’ve seen little evidence that the national Dem party has gotten its shit together, but I feel hopeful when observing local politics and the state special elections that the grassroots and state parties are doing their jobs.
      On a personal level, it’s been a real challenge to figure out what I can do to make a positive impact, but I’m more involved and informed than I’ve ever been and that is a positive light to shed on this whole debacle – the silent majority is no longer silent.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes it is startling how many Republicans currently in Gov, the ones that really matter I guess, have fallen into line with the President. It is generally the ones from past administrations that speak out the most boldly against him. I’m not sure if that is indicative of the breach within the party or just that the old school isn’t in step with the new Republican party and it’s far right agenda.
        The realities of what neo-con policy looks like in action may be sinking in for some folks and I can only hope that those who can still think for themselves will indeed do that: Think!
        I appreciate my state government. We have a brave AG and Governor who are outspoken against the BS Trump says and does and have filed actions against his “policies” numerous times. Unfortunately, in my conservative district, we rarely have a choice as Democrats don’t even run for office here, so I simply abstain from voting those positions on my ballot when the only choice is conservative Republicans, which sucks.
        These are challenging times and it may not change soon enough to stem the bleeding, but I see glimmers of hope out there…

        Liked by 1 person

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