“When a population becomes distracted by trivia, when cultural life is redefined as a perpetual round of entertainments, when serious public conversation becomes a form of baby-talk, when, in short, a people become an audience and their public business a vaudeville act, then a nation finds itself at risk; a culture-death is a clear possibility.” — Professor Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Discourse in the Age of Show Business
What characterizes American government today is not so much dysfunctional politics as it is ruthlessly contrived governance carried out behind the entertaining, distracting and disingenuous curtain of political theater. And what political theater it is, diabolically Shakespearean at times, full of sound and fury, yet in the end, signifying nothing.
Played out on the national stage and eagerly broadcast to a captive audience by media sponsors, this farcical exercise in political theater can, at times, seem riveting, life-changing and suspenseful, even for those who know better.
Week after week, the script changes (Donald Trump’s Tweets, Congress’ hearings on Robert Mueller’s Russia probe, the military’s endless war drums, the ever-widening field of candidates for the 2020 presidential race, etc.) with each new script following on the heels of the last, never any let-up, never any relief from the constant melodrama.
The players come and go, the protagonists and antagonists trade places, and the audience members are quick to forget past mistakes and move on to the next spectacle.
All the while, a different kind of drama is unfolding in the dark backstage, hidden from view by the heavy curtain, the elaborate stage sets, colored lights and parading actors.
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