How do you possibly make fun of an election that already appears to be a parody? I never thought I’d hear an actual presidential candidate referencing the size of his particular body parts, for example.
More seriously, I never thought I’d be reading about violent clashes at campaign events.
While some are bemoaning the absurdity of this year’s election (and especially Donald Trump’s celebrity status), I’m reminded that celebrities spicing up democratic politics is by no means an “only in America” phenomenon.
When I studied abroad in India, the democracy with the largest population in the world, the chief minister of my state was named Jayalalithaa. She was once the biggest heroine of Tamil movies and inspired a fanatic following.
In 2015, she was sentenced to four years in prison for corruption, after her wealth was found to exceed her known income by about 660 million rupees. She had more than 10,000 saris and 66 pounds of gold in her home.
Movie star politicians are common in India. In Brazil, another of the world’s largest democracies, joke candidates are common, including candidates under fake names, such as James Bond, Lady Gaga and Geraldo Wolverine. In 2010, an illiterate clown won election to Brazil’s congress. His slogan: “What does a congressman do? The truth is, I don’t know. But vote for me and I’ll tell you.”
Apparently, American democracy does not have a monopoly on absurdity.
Wise, gray heads among us will pontificate that democracy is useless without education, and the devil’s advocates among us (and, as a journalist, you can always count on me to advocate for the devil), will counter by asking “What education? Whose education? Who determines educational priorities?”
While some see Trump’s appeal as a googly-eyed worship of celebrity and power, others see voters who are desperately looking for a raft to cling to in a stormy socioeconomic sea. Promises to restore American greatness appeal to those experiencing a very real economic trend: many voters today can expect their economic situation to be worse than that of their parents. That’s a powerful contradiction to the expectations of the American dream, and it’s the same worry that Bernie Sanders is trying to tap into, in a very different way.
Philip Slater, in “Chrysalis Effect,” posits that chaos and conflict, not just in the U.S. but around the world, is the result of resistance to the accelerating pace of cultural change all around us.
In Slater’s version, our world is a caterpillar struggling to resist change, holding on to tradition and viewing change as a moral ill. If we just hold out long enough, we will emerge as a beautiful butterfly.
I’m a little skeptical of this theory, too. Ideas of a golden future seem just as implausible to me as visions of an imaginary golden past. If I had to pick an analogy for the world’s swirl, I’d probably choose a roller coaster ride.
There may be a safety belt, but we still better hang on tight.