With the election coming to a merciful end, I can return to my steel cocoon of political abstention, unaware of the political discourse whose volume will lower from banshee-scream to murmur. Even the heavy fortifications of my politics-free lair have reverberated with the echoes of the outside world, forcing me to overhear the election talk I try so hard to avoid. It’s like riding the bus with two freshmen girls behind you, regaling each other with tales of who likes who and who was “so wasted” this weekend, all while you contemplate getting off at the next stop and walking just to get way from the inescapable chatter.
What my brief forays into the political realm have solidified for me this season is the educational bankruptcy and rage-mongering that typifies political discussion in the media.
The political enterprise is unabashedly entertainment-driven. This was always my response when people would ask in astonishment about my lack of political and current event awareness, that I prefer my entertainment to be entertaining.
Despite what news junkies would have you believe, the political discourse in this country is first and foremost entertainment.
Reading the New York Times every morning and spending every evening turned to CNN does not a smart person make. There is little to no educational value the mainstream media’s treatment of politics.
In my more naïve years, I frequented many of these same venues for my political fix, though I later came to realize how empty all of these hours spent paying close attention to politics really is. I barely remember anything that happened back then, and none of it impacted my life in a way that has stuck with me.
This is in large part because of how politics is absorbed in our culture. There are two dominant paradigms through which politics are understood: on TV and in print.
TV coverage is the most prominent and probably the worst. Its focus is almost exclusively a discussion on interpreting the impact on the electorate of small political gaffes and triumphs, with no regard for what is actually good for the country.
Here, candidates are made or broken because of a later amplified sound bite of them cheering awkwardly during a rally or for making a hypothetical bet using too large of a denomination of money despite everyone already knowing you are filthy rich.
Missteps like these are dissected for days on end, with pundit after pundit opining on how their strawmen “middle America” voters who in their minds have no better reason to vote for one person rather than the other than because the TV guy said that showed Mitt Romney’s lack of understanding of their lifestyle. This is not the realm of policy analysis or even societal problem finding. It is simply a scoreboard for a game whose rules are created by the record keepers.
The second form of political consumption — writing — has the opportunity for more intellectual stimulation but instead all too commonly starts and stops with the phenomenon of hate-reading.
Hate-reading is the process of actively seeking out content that you know you disagree with in order to work yourself up into an angry froth, shouting at your laptop, only to experience a sense of superiority due to your much better worldview as the rage subsides.
For many political diehards, this self-righteous rage is the primary appeal of politics. Anyone with a well-developed aesthetic — be it artistic or political — will find it much easier to find things they don’t like than things they do.
Thus, the more political views you hold, and the more confident you are that your views are correct, the more likely you are to bust a blood vessel when reading something you don’t agree with, the reasons for your anger springing to your lips instantly.
I sympathize with this predicament.
What I have come to realize is that it is a higher form of enjoyment to focus on the things you consider great rather than ridiculing the bad.
Instead of the natural impulse to celebrate or mourn after this election, take the moment instead to unplug, to meditate on whether or not the opposition has a different but valid worldview or if they truly are brainwashed or evil like you secretly believe.
The further you drift from the political fulcrum, the less extreme other ideas will seem, and soon you will wonder why you spent so much energy being mad about something you have little say in.
The very real ideological split in this country will not be bridged because of who wins the presidency.
By continuing to discuss the future plans and goals of the nation in these entertainment-focused, anger-inducing ways, we ensure that each subsequent election will be fighting the same battles as the last.
William Haisley is a third year law student and is the Collegian’s Wednesday columnist. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org