“”No!” was the word that awakened us, “No!” being shouted in a man’s loud voice from every house on the block. It can’t be. No. Not for president of the United States.”
The Plot Against America by Philip Roth
“… the columnist or blogger presents their interpretation of what is happening in society. Ideally, readers will return each week to find out what the writer has to say. Some writers do their best to polarise their audience, with half strongly agreeing with what they say, and half vehemently disagreeing. They might do this by making controversial statements which spark outrage and debate. Even though some readers dislike or disagree with what is said, they will continue to read in order to be outraged and because they use the writer as a benchmark for their own opinions.”
When you read my weekly burblings do you nod and laugh in agreement? Can you recognise something of yourself in my words? Or are you outraged and challenged by what I write?
On balance, I love to explore and write about the things which unite us – our common joys, our frailties, our challenges, our “wondrous variety” (see the small print), our passions and our capacity to overcome. I suppose I’m not terribly controversial. But maybe I should be? What do you think? Should I aim to polarise my audience as my esteemed journalism professors suggest?
For the ‘how to’ of controversy I’ll turn to the three topics not meant for polite conversation – politics, religion and money. Today, it’s going to be politics – of the three subjects, politics is the one about which I know least.
I’ve always believed that when it comes to politics I just don’t have the aptitude – incidentally, this was confirmed by my secondary school History teacher. Unfortunately Hubby has banned me from such statements. I have what you might call the ‘Mindset Police’ alive and well and constantly on the prowl in my household in the form of my husband.
Lets examine the facts:
- I was not born with a natural aptitude for politics.
- I have not paid much attention to nor shown much interest in politics.
- As a little girl, growing up at the seaside, the conversations at the dinner table centred around our friends; fishing trips; braais; homework; books; the “ghastly” east wind and the low tide which constantly beckoned us to the beach to get mussels and oysters off the rocks – “Free from the sea!” my father always said.
- Thus I began in life, and thus I was prepared (determined even) to continue into adulthood.
“You should really take an interest in politics,” Hubby challenged me. “You love stories? Just look for the story in politics: it’s about a country, people, powers, history and culture.”
I was not completely won over when Hubby challenged me more than a year ago, but I’m prepared to acknowledge that it made me uncomfortable. I still struggle with what it means to be ‘left wing’ or ‘right wing’ or Labour, Conservative or Lib Dem. I get confused between MP’s, Lords and Councillors. I find the outbursts, “Hear, hears” and “Boos” of the live BBC Parliament channel entertaining, but I get easily distracted from the debate… I read more and ask a lot of questions now, but it’s all still a bit of a conundrum.
So, what exactly does an interest in politics look like? I think this ‘interest’ looks different for everybody, but we all can take an interest. We all can ask questions. We all can vote. We all can speak out in some small or big way. It’s the only responsible thing.
As stories so often have the power to do, I’m getting swept away by the horror of a Philip Roth novel called The Plot Against America. It’s a ‘what if’ story. Set in 1940s America, Franklin D Roosevelt is succeeded as president of the United States by Nazi-sympathiser Charles A Lindbergh. Narrated from the point of view of nine-year-old Philip Roth, this is a slow-building, terrifying socio-political novel about what might happen to a country in the hands of a cruel, power-hungry leader. The scary scenario in this novel demonstrates how it is possible for a creeping fascism to spread across the country from its leader down to its critizens like a malignant cancer… Roth’s novel presents a leader, completely devoid of a moral compass, who somehow gets voted into The White House, despite good people thinking it an impossibility, and then proceeds to malign and persecute Jews and anyone who opposes him. Roth shows how, though unbelievable to us now, it’s utterly possible for one evil man, dressed in his aviator finery, to completely hoodwink a whole country by telling them his plan is to make America great by arming themselves, aviation, strengthening their borders etc …
Are you scared? I’m scared!
Roth uses words like bellicosity, warmonger, proselytiser, intoxicant, imbibing hatred, expatriation, uprising and maligning. Admittedly I’ve had to look some of these words up, but as I’m reading, it’s impossible not to draw parallels with the various political struggles going on across the world. Trump, Zuma, Johnson … and many others.
I’m no political analyst, but I don’t enjoy the contemporary mud-slinging “He said”, “She said” and “He’s awful”, “I’m wonderful, vote for me” approach to political campaigning.
Mark Twain once said, “An honest man in politics shines more there than he would elsewhere.”
I have a hunger to see a leader who speaks humbly, embodies kindness, generosity and grace; does not take down the opposition with malicious gossip in order to bring himself (or herself) up; who genuinely cares about making some difficult and possibly unpopular decisions in the best interest of his (or her) country. I’m so over stunts, theme tunes, bandstands, empty promises and spinning big talk just to get a vote or for a bit of political manoeuvring.
Maybe this is a near impossible ask?
Nevertheless, I hope we all learn to take some interest in our country’s politics. I hope we make choices having thought them through. I hope we ask lots of questions. I hope we can break from the crowd and vote with a conscience…
In the various voting opportunities coming up – EU In/Out Referendum, UK Mayoral Elections, US Presidential elections, South African local elections etc – I pray we get the leaders we need.
I’m trying to take an interest, find the story, ask good questions and ultimately, to care…
What a time we are in!
P.s. It can be extremely annoying to live with the ‘Mindset Police’. Thankfully we periodically switch roles and I get to be the Mindset Police. This has turned into a bit of a game of encouraging (policing) a growth mindset in one another. P.p.s For my non-South-African readers a braai is the South African word for BBQ.
P.p.p.s. Another ‘what-if’ story in the recent TV series, The Man in the High Castle proposes an alternate reality in which Hitler won WWII instead of the Allies.
P.p.p.p.s. I too have laughed at Trump and his antics, but I’ve long begum to find him not funny, but scary.
P.p.p.p.p.s. Incidentally, the “wondrous variety” quote in para 4 above is a line from the swashbuckling adventure film, Robin Hood Prince of Thieves (1991), spoken by one of my favourite actors, Morgan Freeman (see the clip below). This quote is one of my favourites. I’ve always loved the idea that God looks on us and is pleased with the variety of His creation. Robin Hood Prince of Thieves also stars the late Alan Rickman as Sheriff of Nottingham, one of the greatest, though comical screen villains.