January 10th, 2017


Managing Our Expectations

We expect too much of our politicians. But then again they seem to expect us to expect too much of them.

Here, for example, is Theresa May sermonizing about how much good she means to do. It sounds very much like the sermons David Cameron delivered when he was newly hatched. Did he achieve any of the good he intended? Will she?

And here's Barack Obama leaving office. Remember the rhetoric of his ascension? All that trumpeting of Hope? His supporters and well-wishers have largely concealed from themselves how very unimpressive the record of his time in office has been. Banks unchallenged, Wall St let off the hook, criminal justice system unreformed, Gitmo retained, the economy unstimulated, the poor still as poor as they ever were, the rich as rich- if not richer, wars aggressively pursued, dissidents persecuted with a vengeance.  In most respects Obama's presidency has been a continuation of Bush's.  All that changed was the tone...

...And by the same token Trump's presidency will be a continuation of Obama's- only with a different tone.  Here's a single example: Trump makes a big deal of deporting illegal immigrants. You'd think from this that he's proposing a new and harsher regime. But that's simply not the case. Obama deported 2.5 million illegals during his time in office- but didn't shout about it. The policy exists; one man enforced it quietly, his successor will enforce it noisily. If you're a Mexican being bussed back to the border the effect is much the same. Nothing has changed except the rhetoric. Liberal, conservative- it's really just a matter of the noises you make...

And here's the upside- because there is an upside: if politicians have less power to effect change for the good than we all choose to believe so they have less power to effect change for the worse. What looks like change is mainly window dressing. Real change comes from below- from a changing of hearts and minds. It can't be imposed by fiat from above.

A nation is a collection of millions of individuals- with varying amounts of power (but very few entirely without it)- most of them bonded into collectives of one kind and another- and all pretty much set in their ways. Changing the person at the top is much less of a big deal than we'd like to think.