[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
This season of the great American show is substantially less entertaining than The Walking Dead. It’s not even quite as good as Discovery’s Naked and Afraid. But it’s close. The cyclical obsession with Mr. Trump’s “casual” comments, the fresh cud-chewings of Mrs. Clinton’s email server saga, and the shudders of rebellion in both major political parties against the chosen candidates during their conventions is all good stuff. The chanting of “U.S.A.” is particularly simultaneously frightening and infectious.
Still, the shadowy producers aren’t spending enough on the cosmetics for the zombies. I am deeply cynical of our politics, as you can tell.
Every time I watch CNN, I hear that line from “The Raven”: “Though its answer little meaning—little relevancy bore. . .” Our politics are a reality show, unreal and requiring suspension of belief. At times, quite a lot of suspension.
What is the connection between the caricatures shown by the media and the actual candidates? Do the actual votes of the people have bearing on which talking head is chosen? Does the chosen talking head actually correlate in some way to what the American government does? Is our government a system ruled by special interests, as it seems? If it is, can a democratic system ruled by special interests ever actually move away from special interests by internal movement? How can we say that our democracy works and the polls are truthful if both of our primary candidates for president are widely disliked according to the polls?
Now, don’t get me wrong. Like everyone else, I have my preferences for characters on the show. If only Senator Bernie Sanders would have taken any other course than endorsing Hillary Clinton! The Libertarian town hall on CNN was very enjoyable. Wouldn’t it be simply wonderful if both they and the Green Party got to participate in the presidential debates?
When I view my life through the great American show, there’s a lot of good stuff in it. Despite my cynicism, I am deeply grateful to live where the government seems to be largely benevolent and inclusive. Despite my doubts that our truthful president will ever be anything other than the almighty dollar, I want to believe in Bernie Sanders. I want to believe in the viability of alternatives to the two-party system too, and I’m grateful for them. Despite the staggering amount of taxes I must pay as a small business, I am glad when the government helps out the disadvantaged. I am also grateful every time a movement like Black Lives Matter helps me see what I did not.
The problem is that simply so very many of us are completely purchasing the narratives of the show – internalizing them, believing them, and viewing the world through them. Let us enjoy the great American show, let us even view ourselves through it – but let us not permanently live in those waters! Whatever we are, we are not fish in seas of sensationalism.
Whatever your thoughts and preferences are, do not confuse your thoughts and preferences with yourself. Do not insist on interpreting yourself or the rest of us through the story lines of the show. It’s television, nothing more. Whatever our different opinions are, we must not reinterpret every dawn and dusk according to the broadcasts. There are two off switches for the television – one on the physical object, and another in your mind. Remember to flip both.
If we want to actually be present in our lives, we must allow the world to present itself fresh and new to our minds each moment. If we want to actually cultivate spirit and faith, we must suspend our internal narratives. And if we want to actually make changes in the world, we must begin by cultivating stillness and compassion within – by changing ourselves.
Love is in your breath. It is in the people you can touch and hug. It is in the streets of your town and the halls of your house. That is where we are called and where our work must start. This current moment and this stretch of the Garden is the content and the core of all activism. I do not believe you will, as a citizen, get a political representative. But, thankfully, you are already a representative – and you represent far more than anything being sold on television.