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The Perennial Election Agenda: Myth Marketing

The perennial election agenda is to sell you on a myth, a storyline that speaks to your hopes, fears, discontents, and longings about the future.  The human brain’s prototypical approach to making sense of its world is to seek – or create – patterns.  Thus we create stories, and we amplify the stories we like into myths.  We ‘explain’ the world to ourselves.

Political parties and candidates are constantly marketing myths to you, and political conventions are just this process writ large.  They want you to jump on their bandwagon, of course, and this is in the main an emotional response.  For old time party operatives, this is just the icing on a cake they baked a long time ago.  For the rest of us, ‘in the beginning was the word.’  We want to know what they stand for.  We want to know if what they stand for jibes with what we want.  

The party platform, vague as it may very well be and un-read as it so often is, serves to train a laser focus on what the party stands for, at least ideally.  Cynics would argue it’s just a milksop to what the party thinks you want, to what it considers the most sellable mantra of the moment.  Nevertheless, just creating the platform is an intensely political process of jockeying among competing interests as was particularly evidenced this year in the Democratic camp by the protracted negotiations between the Clinton/Sanders factions.  Clinton, of course, represents the more recent corporate, business friendly iteration of the Democratic Party, and Sanders the working class hero party of FDR.  

The platform which emerged as well as Clinton’s recent morphing in a decidedly progressive, populist direction and Sanders’ persistently strong showing is a great shout-out to our present Zeitgeist.  It rejects as corporate-run-through-the-roses giveaways trade deals once regarded as universal societal goods.  This is the moment of the great corporate agenda backlash, a push-back engendered by the financial transgressions of the Great Recession and smoldering, occasionally into open flames as with the spontaneous combustion Occupy uprisings, ever since a decidedly ‘off with their heads’ mood has taken root.  The story we like right now is that somebody needs to pay for all our suffering.  Moreover, it’s our turn (not to pay).

For Republicans, Trump is the very embodiment of this mood, even if in actuality he is the very essence of corporate excess and malfeasance.  Republicans have long struggled to integrate the interests of three very different coalitions: working class voters, the business community, and evangelical voters.  These are very disparate groups, and their party platforms have long cobbled together a mishmash of ideas designed to give each a little something.  Support fossil fuels and trade deals big time to keep business happy, look the other way on immigration for the same reason, placate the working class with massive military spending (and theoretically jobs), stand tall for abortion restrictions and traditional social norms to appease evangelicals.  Keep everyone in line with an orthodox Supreme Court antithetical to change.  Make every problem or need subservient to the overarching mantra of tax cuts and more tax cuts, ostensibly a gift to the working class but structurally often anything but.  Pay homage to work by demonizing – even in the word – ‘entitlements.’

This year the tables holding pamphlets with these neat policy proscriptions have been figuratively opened by angry working class voters.  Hence also Trump’s appeal: whatever else he is, he’s a table turner over for sure.  And thus a convention loudly opposed to what his supposed party has long espoused, especially in regard to immigration and trade deals.  The convention itself was just one long protracted ‘cult of the hero, hence, the speaker roster heavy with familial accolades.  And in place of policy and articulation of policy, we have only a forum for venting emotion, especially negative emotions like anger and resentment.  We’re all here to ‘spout off.’  Rather than regarding opponents as legitimate arbiters of another point of view, they are demonized as the anti-Christ (even one of their own like Cruz) and ‘lynched’ via mob cat calls.

This is a decided blacker and more myopic approach to myth marketing, but one that is not new to students of history and human nature.  The historic precedents, however, are overwhelmingly frightening.

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