I am just a poor boy.Paul Simon, from “The Boxer”
Though my story’s seldom told,
I have squandered my resistance
For a pocketful of mumbles,
Such are promises
All lies and jest
Still, a man hears what he wants to hear
And disregards the rest.
The ongoing fact that around forty percent of American adults consistently approve of Donald Trump was baffling to me in 2017 and worked its way up to distressing in 2018 and 2019. Today, I’m resigned to it.
I’m not completely surprised. I know people have difficult lives, and they’re often too busy to dive into political issues very deeply. Others simply don’t have any real interest. This is the fertile ground where conspiracy theories and other oversimplified nonsense take root, such as the growth of the QAnon story this year. It’s easier to believe that some group of your enemies are controlling the levers of power and making your life miserable, and it absolves you of any real responsibility for trying to change things. Paraphrasing one of our great 20th century poets, Paul Simon, we have squandered our resistance for a pocketful of mumbles… hearing what we want to hear and disregarding the rest.
Another poet, Juvenal, lived in Rome in the late first and early second century A.D. He observed even then that people were willing to give up their rights and responsibilities as citizens in exchange for cheap distractions, what he referred to as “bread and circuses”:
Already long ago, from when we sold our vote to no man, the People have abdicated our duties; for the People who once upon a time handed out military command, high civil office, legions — everything, now restrains itself and anxiously hopes for just two things: bread and circuses.Juvenal, from Satire X, 77-81
Many people are asking “how did we get here?” Looking back over our nation’s relatively short history, and considering humanity’s much longer track record, the better question might be “how did we avoid getting here any sooner than we did?”