By Tim Hayes
Some contend the best way – and the only way, if you ask the zealots – to drop a bad habit is to just drop it. Stop it. End it one day and never look back. Go completely cold turkey.
For a portion of the population, that can work. Stop eating sugar. Stop smoking. Stop cursing. Stop overspending. As we plow our way through the penitent Christian season of Lent, this notion of “giving things up” takes the brain’s captain’s chair, and maybe that’s why this topic came to be the subject of this particular essay.
But another reason probably played a larger role in determining this week’s subject – politics.
Why is it that every four years this country loses its collective mind over a handful of preening, blustering egomaniacs, each of whom has convinced him or herself that destiny points to a new address at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, DC?
This campaign season may be one of the zaniest such circuses in years, with outsized egos, snide insults, and some wacky outer-space ideas on full-tilt Technicolor Sense-Surround display, which explains the intense and ever-expanding appeal – not unlike a spectacular head-on train collision. People simply can’t tear themselves away from anything that makes a lot of noise and poses an alarming level of potential danger.
Four years ago, I let myself get sucked into this whirlpool of presidential politics in a big, big way. Sending out articles and memes to a standing e-mail list of like-minded believers. Watching all the political shows on TV and getting whipped into a mental frenzy when someone expressed what, to me, was anathema to my version of the Pure and Obvious Truth.
Once the election passed, though, it felt like someone snapped his fingers and I woke, startled, from a deep hypnotic trance. I took a much more objective look into the rear-view mirror, and realized I’d been so hooked, so drawn into the rhetoric and the drama and the competitiveness of the race, that the unhealthiness of it all came crashing down like grand pianos on my head.
And I swore it would never, ever happen again. I went 100% cold turkey that day and have kept it up for four years.
But now, like a recovering addict, the temptations have begun dancing around the edges of my better self once again. The personalities this time have proven so much more bizarre and outrageous than in 2012. Oh, to have a choice weighted more on ideas than on idiocy, once again! Can anyone recommend a support group for political junkies who just want to dry out and get off the stuff?
In another way, though, the outrageousness this year actually makes it easier to walk away and stay away. I mean, no clever snide posting on Facebook has ever changed the opinion of a person whose mind has already been made up. No amount of talking, arguing, or shouting has softened an opposing position that’s already been set in stone. So why bother? Make up your own mind, and don’t worry about the other person.
You want to know the really crazy part of getting pulled too far into a presidential race? Whoever wins, the effect typically is nowhere as pronounced as you think it will be. We ought to pay a lot more attention to local municipal elections.
That’s where decisions get made that impact you much more directly. But those hometown elections never rise – or sink – to levels of pomposity and preposterousness as much as the national ones. They’re not nearly as simultaneously goofy, wild, entertaining, insulting, or terrifying.
And that’s probably a good thing. Surviving a swamp of national nonsense once every four years is tough enough.
Copyright 2016 Transverse Park Productions and Tim Hayes Consulting