The November 2018 US midterm elections were the most important elections in history. At least, that’s how activists, journalists, and social media treated it in the run up. Surprisingly, despite the Democratic win of the US Congress, the world has not decayed into a communist hellscape. In the same vein, despite the Republicans keeping the Senate, and even picking up seats, America has not become the Nazi Reich reborn. If It sounds like I’m being flippant about politics, it’s because I am. It’s difficult to take politics seriously when every news item is treated as an apocalyptic existential threat. The only solution for exaggeration politics is for everyone to calm down, go outside, listen to some birds sing, and come to the realisation that their politicians and neighbours are not evil.
If one doesn’t go outside, it’s easy to believe that the world is coming to its end every week. This is incorrect. The world is ending on June 6th, 2066, according to the hobo named New Jesus, whom I met in Jerusalem the other day. He seemed like a very earnest fellow. He was certainly more trustworthy than the gamut of talking heads on the news that make failed armageddon predictions every few hours. It is astounding how when news cycles have become eight hours long, every item is still the most important ever. Yet, as the ginger Elon Musk character in “The Incredibles” said, “when everyone’s super, no one will be”. If a porn star having an affair with a known philandering politician is treated with the same histrionic on-air shock as the cancelation of a deal with a nuclear ambitious rogue state, how can one be expected to treat either with any proportionate sense of importance? However, for now it seems that every scandal, every policy, and every whiff of disagreement must be met with maximum outrage, firings, and mobs. If everyone is running after everyone else with tiki torches and pitchforks, that means everyone is a monster. I’ve stepped out of my house, and spoken to enough Americans, to know that’s not true. The failure to realise that everything is dialed up to eleven, and the idea everyone else is a monster, is a symptom of exaggeration politics.
Almost all liberal democracies, but particularly the US, currently engage in exaggeration politics. It would be dishonest to pretend that all sides of the spectrum don’t exaggerate when it comes to their opponents. It has became the norm in politics so much so that it likely helped put a world record exaggerator in the Oval Office. The yuge problem is that many people don’t know how to take either side’s exaggerations with a lump of salt. If someone told you that your political opponent canceling government mandated healthcare would lead to your death, why wouldn’t you at least listen? Likewise, if you described migrant caravan members as “invaders” and said that the majority had a criminal bent, citizens might just take those claims seriously. This is a problem in of itself, but politicians, pundits, and everyday people respond to these exaggerations in kind. Overemphasised talk of deaths from lack of healthcare can in turn be met by embellishment about how the healthcare that the other side demands is focused on killing babies. On the other side, a hyperbolic worry about illegal immigration and cross-border gangs can be responded to with accusations of racism for the ethnic minority of the week. Once exaggeration bombardments fly back in forth, it doesn’t take long before everyone has dug themselves trenches. In such a battlefield, every topic increases in value and weight until it implodes in on itself, or the next trending issue arises.
The shocking truth is that the vast majority of voters on both sides are not racists or baby killers. There are a lot of reasons for voting for or against someone, and the fewer parties there are, the more likely voters have to make a hard choice, and pick one swaying factor. The vast majority of citizens are not looking to create a dystopian “Handmaid’s Tale” or “Animal Farm” society. They want to be left alone, and maybe pursue political policies that make their own lives a little bit better. It’s better to assume, especially in an age of exaggeration, that they’re mistaken or misinformed about a subject, rather than having malicious intent, being Soviet sleeper agents or “The Boys from Brazil”. Similarly, when it comes to the actual parties themselves, Republicans and Democrats are not evil. They’re certainly both guilty of trying to ride the exaggeration bull until the other falls off or steps in something unpleasant, but that’s in part an issue of narcissism and ego as they each try to get their “I’m Corey Booker” moment. They also exaggerate because they know it works. People don’t yet seem to understand how this new rhetorical game works, and politicians are people too. Well, besides those who are secret lizardmen, but that’s an issue for another article, co-written by New Jesus the hobo. Otherwise, as people, politicians also want to keep their jobs. Most are not actually malicious fanatical ideologues, just incompetent. There are those that want to push policy ever so slightly to one side of the political spectrum, but the fact is that the vast majority of political decisions will not affect anyone’s everyday routine in any significant fashion. The radicals that do exist, in a healthy liberal democracy, are eventually revealed, or else have their foolish agendas lost in a sea of mundane agendas.
If the denizens of the West continue to exaggerate and pretend that everyone that they disagree with is evil, and that everything is worth getting worked up over, then it will affect the health of their democracies. In an environment in which everyone’s opponents are considered evil, then instead of debate everyone will be met with the harshest solutions for evil, violence. Politicians may not actually believe their own exaggerations. Average citizens may only partly digest them. However the unhinged will devour them, and ask for seconds. We saw this with the MAGA bomber and James Polite. Further, in such an environment, those rare individuals that are truly evil, and would be so regardless of the rhetorical atmosphere, would feel that they could act out their worst machinations with impunity. We saw this with the congressional baseball shooter, and more recently with the horrific Pittsburgh terrorist attack. All this in turn will provide fodder for the outrage media industry that feeds off of exaggeration politics. The news cycle will continue to speed up, and every story will be even more hysterically cataclysmic than they are now. The news cycle is so quick already that I can barely write an op-ed without it becoming irrelevant by the time I finish writing, as this article already likely is. These rapid fire artillery barrage news items are already emotionally exhausting as is. Every wave of outrage leaves everyone looking like a toddler, one who has been left to cry it out until they’re tired. I would be surprised if the needless worry hasn’t already begun to affect people’s physical health.
Thankfully, I have a cure to this malady. I may not be a doctor, but I have stolen one’s prescription pad. While I wish it had enough pages to prescribe Valium to all of North America, we’ll have to make do with a prescription of societal policy. Firstly, all politicians, activists, and journalists must cease exaggerating. No one cares what the other side is doing. Everyone needs to take the first step forward toward a standard of less inflamed rhetoric as one, or else nobody will. This will break the cycle of exaggeration, and will provide fewer stories to report on and get upset about. This is best achieved by everyone going outside, enjoying the sun, and not talking or thinking about politics for at least a month. This is a better game than the one we’re currently playing. Secondly, we must realise that not all evils are equal. If we recognise all our neighbours as evil, then true evil will be able to operate freely in the shadows of a bitter normalcy. If instead we view our fellow’s intentions as if they were as good as ours, then they may treat us accordingly. With everyone assumed good until proven otherwise, and events ceasing to be exaggerated, everything can go back to normal, with the Republicans and Democrats both amicably pile-driving the US budget down into the furthest reaches of the infernal deficit abyss. That is, until the world end in 2066.