Politicians will never make us happy
According to a 2015 Pew report, just 19 percent of Americans say they can trust their government “always or most of the time,” while only 20 percent would describe government programs as “being well run.”
This is not a shocking statistic — we’ve been hearing about the declining faith in government for a long time.
What is surprising, though, is another finding in the same report: Americans still expect a lot from that same government they don’t trust, with majorities saying they “want the federal government to have a major role in addressing issues.”
This dissonance reflects the dysfunctional nature of the political process: To get elected, politicians feel they must promise the moon, and when that moon never shows up, well, we are disappointed. So, on the one hand we’re conditioned to expect a lot, but on the other we’re resigned to feeling let down.
It’s like ordering one of those miracle workout machines that promise you the perfect body in 30 days and then seeing it end up in your bedroom as a piece of furniture to hang your clothes on. In the advertising business, we call that “antisappointment”— you anticipate, and you’re disappointed.
But promises are intoxicating. We want to believe. We know deep down we’ll get burned, but we’re eternally seduced by the drug of hope.
Politicians never stop feeding us that drug. The more cynical we are, the more hope they promise. It’s a race to the bottom, with antisappointment becoming a permanent American condition.
If you watched the Republican and Democratic conventions, you may have noticed that very few speakers, if any, demanded something back from the voters. In addition to the usual maligning of the other party, it was the same classic playbook: “We promise you the moon, and in return you vote for us.” Never mind that voters will probably get burned again.
A friend of mine used to ask waiters in restaurants, “What’s not good here?” If they answered honestly with an item, he would trust them when they told him something was good.
If Hillary Clinton wants to beat Donald Trump this year, she might want to try that approach. Don’t just tell us that Trump is horrible, and don’t just tell us what you can do. Be straight with us: Tell us what the government cannot do, what the government is not good at.
Here’s a presidential stump speech I’d love to hear:
“Look, I can stand here and promise you that my policies will transform our country and improve your lives, but I’d be lying. That’s not how it works. I can promise you I’ll work really hard to generate more jobs, level the playing field, upgrade our education, care for the downtrodden, make the world safer and cleaner and so forth, but that doesn’t ensure I will succeed or that your lives will improve.
“The truth is, no politician can make you happy. That’s something only you can achieve. You can work harder and smarter. You can take better care of your health. You can control your anger and be more forgiving. You can spend more time with your family. You can get more involved with social and civic causes and your local communities. You can enjoy the arts and the beauty of nature. None of those actions has anything to do with whom you will vote for.
“Of course, I will do my best to make sure the odds are on your side. But, at the end of the day, your well-being is mostly on your shoulders. It’s about what you can do for yourself, your family, your neighborhood, your city, your country, your world.
“My platform is to bring out the best in Americans by reminding you how needed you are and how much potential you have. I will do my share, but I expect you to do yours. My campaign slogan is, ‘Bringing out the best in America,’ because the best of each American is what our great nation deserves.
“If you can handle that truth, I will accept your vote.”
David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.