Phil Hoffert: Dissatisfaction in American politics, part one

The Infinite Nothing

Isn’t it strange that we tend to detest politics and politicians—at least as uncomfortable realities within our republican system—yet wait in long lines and then shove through large crowds in order to receive the spectacle of their word? How is it possible that we can trust these people? Do we meaningfully take them to task and propose reasonable solutions when they avoid their promises and duties? As non-politicians do, we have the ability to re-focus and even redirect the power-knowledge apparatus of the state into which we as political beings inhere? And overall, is it inevitable that many of us will generally come to despise the new politicians as we turn our direction with renewed gusto to the next set of contenders?

These were the questions I asked myself at KSL as I overheard the final traces of presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s speech outside. For several reasons I was unable and somewhat unwilling to go. Others apparently were not deterred by the controversy over Ms. Clinton’s e-mail account during her time as secretary of state. Perhaps they sought answers.

As Observer Staff Reporter Aneeka Ayyar identifies, more than 1,000 people came to see Ms. Clinton speak outside the Tink on Aug. 27. Julia Bianco, also of the Observer, recorded the usual promises and flattery fitting of a lifelong politician like Ms. Clinton. One such phrase went, “Other candidates may be out fighting for a particular ideology but I’m fighting for you.”

At first glance, the contradiction I mentioned of despising politicians, yet extending them our attention and assent (perhaps in return for a selfie), seems one only in appearance. For isn’t it true that we generally laud our party while promptly condemning the opposite side of the ideological spectrum? The current impasse in American politics isn’t the fault of our own party; rather it’s the dirty dealings of our opponents. “Politician/Party X actually gives a damn about such and such issue, while Politician/Party Y undercuts them at every turn!”

But does partisanship really account for the ossified angst, a kind of duplicitous paranoia in our collective conscience, that the titans of our party are unwilling to effect actual change in our country? And if they are willing, is it even possible for them to accomplish substantive improvement anymore?

I’m inclined to think that anyone who isn’t too abashed to admit that they pay attention to the outside world would likely confess, whether with a laugh or a sigh, that we lateralize this frustrated pessimism into our hope that the post-modern political system can and does work. Seen in this way, the phenomenon reflects not so much an immanent terminal, but rather a consumptive cough that spreads furtively, evading palliative care.

To illustrate, Gallup plots the 2015 approval ratings of Congress and the President at 22% and 46%, respectively. Perhaps more tellingly, they measure the “National Satisfaction” rate (“Are you satisfied or dissatisfied with the way things are going in this country today?”) at 31%. Thus in that sample about 7 in 10 persons felt dissatisfied with our national affairs. Although I have both methodological and philosophical reservations about the efficacy and relevance of polls, these numbers arguendo are troubling. And the so-far robust support (if we are to trust the media) for a facially apolitical candidate like Donald Trump further unveils the widening chasm between the uneasy public and the unreachable modern political class.

It is for this reason—our antimonial synthesis of hope and dissatisfaction within American politics—that I tend to think that the paradox mentioned above is one of systemic persistence and not merely of appearance. I mean to say that although we seldom overtly reveal it, we tend to despise our own party’s politicians right along with those of our rivals. In other words, even though many of us participate in the political process (volunteering and donating to campaigns, voting, communicating with our representatives), we still draw a deep demarcation between ourselves as non-politicians and politicians as non-citizens, or rather, as strangers. As such, most of us may vote for Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Jeb Bush, or Donald Trump, but we surely wouldn’t want to be one of them.

What can we say about this? It seems that we direct our anger against the whole process, sometimes unconsciously and other times intentionally, because we view politicians as a class primarily of their own. Whom do they represent, if not us? Themselves, perhaps. But as a non-politician, I am unable to assert this claim for lack of knowing anything substantive or even discursive about politicians strictly in the capacity of politicians. Thus, how the public, and by extension myself, perceives and recognizes the conceptual “politician-ness” of policymakers might help us better understand the phenomenon of distrust and dissatisfaction in the American political system.

I will therefore try to investigate in next week’s column why we have such trouble accepting politicians in their otherness and how we categorize differing conceptions (what I’ll sometimes call the “politician-ness”) of the “modern politician.” I shall attempt to explore this confusion historically and dialectically via a question that is integral but so far without decent clarification: What is a politician?

Phil Hoffert is a senior studying Political Science and English with a minor in Italian. He has an unhealthy obsession with Puccini (especially Tosca), bad puns, and post-post-post-modern fiction, but, to tell you the truth, he’s not too down about it.