We humans love being agreeable. It is so much easier than constantly finding ourselves in arguments and having to defend our positions. It also beats having small groups of people turn sidelong glances your direction as if caught talking about you and your “different” way of viewing the world.
That’s why people love bandwagons. If you see one leaving the station, hop on for the ride. You will be in the company of pleasant people who ask nothing from you except your soul. That’s right. Just go with the crowd, be a good snake oil consumer, buy into self-serving political programs and don’t bother the driver with questions about where we are going. There’s a party going on in the back of the bus.
American politics thrives on bandwagons. All politics thrives on bandwagons. One could argue that any political system, over time, will come to reflect the social consensus in which it operates. And while we can bring illustrations from history that would seem to prove the point we must recognize that consensus, itself, is manipulable. Astute politicians have learned how to use the bandwagon effect to manipulate a society’s consensus and, hence, a political system’s drift, direction and policy output.
I am like any other consumer of media, I suppose, with my own bandwagon of reporters and friends in what conservative commentators like to call the left wing media.Yes, the New York Times, the Washington Post, MS-NBC, NPR and The Guardian are sources I trust much more than the White House and its Fox News friends. My choice of media reflects my view that truth is an essential component in our politics.. Truth is a value of the left and seemingly of little concern to the political right. They have learned to play the realpolitik of the classic dictatorships where truth is an ethical drag on the business of achieving and holding power.
This week has been a week of realpolitik on display and it has been a good week for the president. Markets up. Unemployment down. And another ultra-conservative installed on the Supreme Court. And the president’s road show seems to be more popular than ever — old white folks laughing and applauding his standup routine that lies, belittles, bullies and mocks for their entertainment. He picks their pockets and pays off his friends while they are yukking it up with him . The rich get richer … you know the rest.
I am depressed about our future – at least in the short term.
The bandwagon seems to be leaving the station. I see little reason to believe that a blue wave will turn things around in November. I am seeing more and more of the folks who call themselves moderates and independents hopping on the bandwagon. People are beginning to accept that this kind of leadership is normal and that it is even admirable if it leads to the policy results you favor.
And the policies they favor are based on selfishness and nothing more.
This brings me to the importance of faith in today’s world. The Abrahamic religions are subscribed to by a little over half the folks on the planet. Practices in each of them by their adherents can vary a great deal, sometimes even providing cover for actions that are completely opposite the basic tenets of the faiths. These variances lead many people to abandon the traditional faith communities.
Still, they represent mankind’s most effective effort at instilling values of justice, generosity, peaceful community, sharing, and love. Americans who have taken these values from their Christian, Jewish and Muslim traditions now find themselves in a significant counter-cultural moment. It is not a time to give up and follow the medicine show. It is time to recommit to those values we hold most dear.
Wave goodbye to the bandwagon. Watch them laughing their way into historical irrelevance. Take comfort in your own communities of faith. They were born as minorities and, frankly, they function better as minorities. The power of realpolitik is just another worldly temptation. The God of Abraham, Jesus and Mohammed is the one that leads people through the wilderness and shows them how to lead others, not through power but, instead, through grace and consistent hard-nosed faith. Living in community with others who believe in peace, love and sharing has a power that cannot be matched by dictators or the shallow appeals of the medicine shows. Christians, Jews and Muslims who are firmly rooted in their traditions lead through the example of their prophets.
Nothing is more powerful to me than the instruction of the prophet Micah: “He has showed you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8 RSV)
The President’s bandwagon looks a little scary for the moment but it is a shabby medicine show compared with the undeniable and eternal staying power of the formula for God’s grace so eloquently summed up by the prophet Micah.
Keep the faith. Make space for truth and kindness your world. And vote.