The Attack on the Capitol
Did Mark Twain actually say, “it is easier to fool people than to convince them that they have been fooled?” There is disagreement. Does it matter?
True, attributing the quote to Twain adds to its catchy cachet, but it does not make the statement any the more true than it already is.
The phrase has enjoyed a resurgence in recent years thanks to the increase of deception, especially as practiced in politics.
A popular path to power is to convince a group of people that they are victims and that you are the solution to their problems. If you can fool them into thinking those two things, they will provide you with two important political currencies: votes in low turnout primaries; and cash to pay your team of spinners and election-istas, who promise to propel you into office if you will but heed their advice and pay them handsomely out of the dollars, they will happily extort on your behalf from those who have been fooled.
It is rather a good business – more than $14 billion in the recent election cycle – and it is practiced by Democrats and Republicans alike.
The latest example took place yesterday when a mob, fueled by President Donald Trump, attacked the Capitol while the Senate and the House of Representatives were meeting in joint session to formalize the election of Joe Biden as our next President.
The mob had been fooled into thinking that the participants in the joint session of Congress could overturn the outcome of the election, which their preferred candidate had lost. This, the Senators and Congressmen could not do. The fatuous battle was fought on the wrong field.
Likely, the physical damage to the Capitol was rather minor, but four people died. The damage to our country’s standing around the world was far greater, but the damage to our faith in elections and governance – a faith that might well already be undeserved thanks to prior similar political stunts – is greater still.
Americans are divided into three broad political outlooks: left; right; and “not as important as the other things in my life.”
The third group is the largest, with each of the first two hovering in the 25% to 30% range leaving almost half who pay little attention and give little money until elections near. It is the zealots who support the business.
Sadly, there is no party for the middle group, as Democrats and Republicans assiduously court their bases and even more assiduously resist the destruction of their profitable duopoly.
Try to make a distinction here. I am not suggesting that the policies espoused by Democrats or Republicans are equally good or bad. I could never carry that burden. Most will prefer one set or another (to the extent the parties actually stand for anything other than the results of the latest polls and focus groups). It is the business models that are the same, and those identical business models risk ending our experiment in republican democracy.
There is no reason you should believe my argument so let’s follow the Twain analogy and add to its credibility by attributing it (accurately and undeniably) to Katherine M. Gehl and Michael E. Porter in their book “The Politics Industry: How Political Innovation Can Break Partisan Gridlock and Save Our Democracy.” Here is a link to a Harvard Business Review storythat will give you the gist.
Partisans on both sides go through their lives half right. They can easily see the excesses of their enemies but are blind to the excesses of their own. Democrats see the President’s mental illness and the crimes of the MAGA mob vividly while remaining oblivious to the Speaker of the House disdainfully tearing up the State of the Union address and Black Lives Matter rioting in black neighborhoods.
Worse, it is not only the voters. Newspapers and television stations (especially cable) fearing loss of readers or viewers now serve as partisan cheerleaders for whichever political faction is supported by their target audience. They get lumped in with the enemy voters and it becomes impossible to agree on what might actually have happened. Left leaning outlets and followers reside in a different factual universe from those leaning right.
The partisans are fooled into thinking their side is always right while the other side is always wrong and, as they fall back on the accurate view that the behavior of the other side is wrong, they erect emotional defenses against the possibility that the behavior of their side is too.
Yesterday at about 3:30 in the afternoon, I was alerted to the happenings at the Capitol by a trophy friend (he’s only 60) who emailed and asked, “does today’s activity remind you at all of the Vietnam war protests?”
“What activity,” thought I, as I had been working on something else and not paying attention to outside distractions.
I turned on the television and understood right away.
Ten minutes later I replied, “some of the same look, yes. There is a difference though. There was a war in Vietnam. There is no second term presidency for Trump.”
I ended the follow up exchange with, “note to self: don’t elect presidents who are mentally ill.”
And therein lies the worst of the problems.
Today’s outrage is likely to dissipate as people move on to other things and memories fade.
You know, like school shootings.
The industry that turns rage into money for themselves, and political careers for those whose skills relate more to living with hypocrisy than to solving significant problems (to say nothing of providing leadership) will let the dust settle and go back to manufacturing outrage on both left and right.
They are correct that outrage gets attention. Newspapers and television networks will provide soap boxes for them to stand on because they fear for their own survival.
Ask yourself a question: what makes you think we drew the worst possible card on the first try?
Reprehensible as the 45th President might be, could there not be a still more unsuitable candidate awaiting us in the future?
The cycle will go on because it is easier to fool people than to convince them that they have been fooled.
It will also continue because it is a profitable business model for the Democratic and Republican parties.