Thursday, March 3, 2016

Straight Talk

The ingenious subtext of much of [Donald Trump's] messaging is: “Nobody wants to hear this hard truth, but here it is: you’re right!”
Derek Thompson "How Donald Trump Can Beat Hillary Clinton" The Atlantic, 2 March 2016

"94.3 percent of the time Obama never really tells the audiences anything uncomfortable though he boasts that he will 100 percent of the time. What he promises them instead is to tell people they don't like (auto executives and Wall Street fat cats) what THOSE GROUPS don't want to hear."
John Dickerson "Obama's Closing Argument" Slate Magazine, 21 April, 2008
"Hard truths" and "Things people don't want to hear" are part of the stock in trade of American politics because the American public, as a whole sees itself as above being openly pandered to, and tough enough to hear about the difficult work that lies ahead. A stereotypical scene from older movies comes to mind, wherein a young man is seated in a doctor's office waiting for the prognosis, and when the doctor hesitates, the young man blurts out "C'mon, doc! Give it to me straight! I can take it!"

But time and again, candidates who openly pride themselves on their candor are typically judged by outside observers to be pandering. Not because the public has deluded itself as to what it wants - people dislike those they understand to be pandering (even if sometimes, their ideas of pandering seem to be driven by their like to dislike of the speaker, rather than the content of the message) - but because people rarely go into a political speech without an idea of what candor would look like. Combine that with people's tendency to conflate their interests with the interests of the nation, and you have a recipe for an inability to distinguish between truth and convenient falsehoods.

In reality, there are no such things as "hard truths" outside of an unexpected crisis, when people are turning to others precisely because they don't know what to expect or what they need to do next. In everyday life, for the person who has seen the hand writing on the wall, understands that their industries days are numbered and is preparing for a new career, "These jobs are leaving, and they aren't coming back," isn't a hard truth; instead, it's a confirmation of the path they've already decided on. But for the person who understands that it's too late for them to find another job that will allow them to live at the standard to which they've become accustomed, it isn't a hard truth, either; it's a convenient lie, invented to justify throwing them under the bus and handing their rightful benefits off to the undeserving.

When people are allowed to participate in their government, government is going to, at least outwardly, reflect the revealed preferences of those people who participate. And during campaigns, when people are voting their hopes, dreams and fears, the words of candidates for office will reflect those.

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