Where Are the Happy People?
I haven’t written anything for Bearing Drift in a while. Actually, I have. I just haven’t finished those pieces or I haven’t sent them in to be posted. Every word feels like an invitation to a vitriolic response. Everything feels like a fight. That got me thinking: is anyone involved in politics happy?
Sure, there’s that euphoric feeling of winning a legislative or electoral victory. But is that feeling happiness? Usually, it looks closer to the “F*** Yeah!” feeling of besting someone else than the “We did it!” feeling of an honest accomplishment. Winning isn’t winning anymore; it’s beating the other guy, and angry-happy isn’t the same as joyful-happy.
I’m not asking if people involved in politics have happy moments; of course, they do. They love their kids, enjoy a good pot roast, and cheer for their favorite sports team. But, when was the last time you met someone deeply involved in politics who could be described as a truly happy person?
The adjectives that come to mind when describing folks involved in politics are rarely flattering, and more than anything else, they fall on the angry slice of the wheel of emotion. Even the young, eager volunteers carry a shroud of discontent and a healthy dose of loathing for “the other guy.”
This is probably all a bit metaphysical think piecey for a conservative blog in Virginia during an election year, but maybe that’s because every year is an election year in Virginia. Maybe it’s because we just went through a nasty Presidential election during a global pandemic that culminated in a seditious attack on the U.S. Capitol and the first-ever second impeachment of a President.
Maybe it’s because it took RPV longer to draft a plan for the 2021 nominating contest than it took the Founding Fathers to write the rough draft of the Constitution because factions were more interested in helping their preferred candidate than creating an equitable process.
Or maybe it’s because, based on the contents of my mailbox, the United States Postal Service will be single-handedly saved by Republican candidates for statewide office and their deluge of mailers quoting scripture, showing pictures of themselves shaking the hands of police officers, and trying to both court the base during a primary while not saying anything that will alienate suburban voters during the general. Maybe it’s all of that and more.
I am not so vain as to think this piece is a golden shovel breaking new ground; it’s more likely that I’m just shoveling the same manure that’s been fertilizing the fields of discontent for generations.
Mr. Smith wasn’t unique because he went to Washington, but because he was the only honest man there. Thank goodness there wasn’t a sequel because I don’t know if Jimmy Stewart could have pulled off jaded, cruel, distrusting, and manipulative, which seems to be the only way to survive in the city by the Potomac. Or, for that matter, in the city by the James River.
Does politics attract angry people or does it create them? Do we all start out like Jimmy Stewart at the start of Mr. Smith but in the end become Mr. Hyde? Or was that within us all along just waiting for the moment to spring fully formed like Athena with her sword drawn ready to fight?
In the 1999 Star Wars prequel, The Phantom Menace, Yoda warns young Anakin Skywalker, the boy who grows up to become Darth Vadar, “Fear leads to anger … anger leads to hate … hate leads to suffering.”
I think of this quote every time I hear someone using fear and anger to win a political argument. They promise their side will protect us from what we fear, whether that fear is real or a political contrivance, in the hope that it will foment enough anger to motivate people to do what they want. The only thing that divides one side from the other, whether in intra-party or inter-party debates, is with whom we are angry.
Before this piece and I are relegated to the ash heap of hippies and Beat poets, I have to wonder why it matters. So what if politics has become nothing more than a verbal blood sport and the Capitol is America’s Colosseum where gladiators fight for supremacy?
Benjamin Franklin warned us why it matters: “This [the U.S. Constitution] is likely to be administered for a course of years and then end in despotism … when the people shall become so corrupted as to need despotic government, being incapable of any other.”
If we build up enough fear, eventually we will live out Franklin’s other warning: “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
Maybe a few happy people running for office or working in politics wouldn’t be such a bad thing after all.