Reflections on Elections and Rhetoric

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While the virus is an insidious and continuing health threat and the wildfires which raged across Oregon and the West Coast brought staggering losses, another disheartening 2020 phenomenon is the ubiquitous and unfortunately unrelenting rhetoric surrounding the election campaigns.

The lack of civility and rational dialogue has redefined the meaning of “polarized” and we can only hope that after November 3rd, the citizenry of the US will pull together and a plan to conquer the virus is developed.

Meanwhile, it inspired me to re-read a relevant little book with some gems that seem strangely appropriate.   Excuses and Lies – Pithy Proclamations for the Workplace, Liked Ones, Loved Ones, Self Deceptions, Behaving Badly and Famously Infamous is a handy primer for many rationalizations or departures from the truth which are funny, but not pernicious – unlike those spewed forth in the current political environment.

This includes two of my favorites which I have used previously in this blog (and possibly in my own life..) both of which are in the “Self Deceptions” section of this little tome:

“It’s not drinking alone, as long as you have the TV on.”   (page 66)   

“Red wine prevents heart attacks, but you have to drink a lot of it.”  (page 66)

And it is difficult to argue with the major premises of the book including:

“Indeed, if the truth were consistently told, the result would be social anarchy – the end of friendship, correspondence, entertaining, cohabitation and dating.”  (Page 27)

The moral of this story?  If you love someone, lie – and if you really love them lie with scripted wit and creativity.”  (Page 47)

I’m not willing to accept a very cynical premise conveyed on page 62: “People who lie to themselves are more confident and self-assured than those who grapple with the truth of their own inadequacies.”

Benji – living on a farm in the country…

But what parent can argue with two deceptions in the “Loved Ones” section on page 48 including “We’re almost there,” or

“He went to doggy heaven,” the latter being a more spiritual version of, “We gave him a new home on a farm where he can really run free.”

Travolta in his personal Boeing 707 Jet

And it’s not just rationalizations with young children.  The book makes it all relative in the environmental context when defending one’s own lack of discipline for extra trips to the store, use of plastic water bottles (a ridiculous and outrageous habit) or griping about not being able to use a traditional straw in your soda:

“My carbon footprint is so much less than John Travolta’s.”

In revisiting this book, published by Knock Knock Press in Venice, California, it forced me to take down two other similar and adjacent works on my home office bookshelf – both of which I have showered with praise in previous blog posts – the brilliant On Bullshit by Princeton Emeritus Professor, Dr. Harry Frankfurt and The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm by James  Napoli.

Napoli’s book is witty and brilliant – a dictionary with a broad range of definitions, but particularly relevant in the political realm.  They range from “activist” – “a person who cares about the fate of the world until reaching approximately twenty-eight years of age,” to “zealous” – “Fervently committed to being so fervently committed that nobody wants to talk to you anymore.”

And he is non-partisan, taking shots at both the left and the right:

Biased: “What pissed-off liberals call people they suspect might have a point.”

Conservative: “Someone who hates liberals because they have, at least once, seen themselves naked.”

JC

I recommend it because it’s 367 enjoyable pages of dry wit which will make you laugh even during a pandemic and with rich historical and geographical references.  Two last examples:

Julius Caesar:  “Dictator of ancient Rome.  His nearly fifteen years of conquest which resulted in the formation of the entire Roman Empire; now reduced to salad.”

Canada:  “Free health care.  Low crime. Birthplace of William Shattner.  Two out of three ain’t bad.”

Now, in two past blog posts, I have gushed, at length, about the profound wisdom of Princeton University Emeritus Professor, Dr. Harry Frankfurt in his essay On Bullshit.  https://thebeerchaser.com/2020/03/12/bs-revisited-if-only-i-had-known-in-2012/

One should go through this treatise to garner a better understanding of pre-election communication, but also to put that dialogue in perspective:

“The realms of advertising and of public relations, and the nowadays closely related realm of politics, are replete with instances of bullshit so unmitigated that they can serve among the most indisputable and classic paradigms of the concept.” (emphasis supplied)

So in order to get through the next three days until the election, you need some inspiring reading, I suggest browsing through these and having a good, strong alcoholic libation while viewing the unceasing political ads.   

The Rev. Swift

And remember these two assertions – the first, by Jonathan Swift (1667 – 1745) from my own collection of brilliant citations of famous authors and philosophers, I’ve collected over the years. Swift wrote satire and essays and political pamphlets – both for the Tories and the Whigs and was also noted as a poet and cleric.  (Wikipedia)

“If a lie be believed only for an hour, it hath done its work.”

Or from Excuses and Lies if you are caught drinking when it was discouraged or prohibited – from page 91:

“My juice must have accidentally fermented in the cupholder.”

1972 – Have Times Changed that Much?

I’ve mentioned previously that during the lockdown, my wife has justifiably mandated I go through the hundreds of old newspapers, magazine articles, e-mails and documents in our garage from my years in local government and legal management.

Garage Files…..Future High School Civics??

Having reread the aforementioned Lies and Excuses I lamely suggested, “But our granddaughters can use them in their future high school civic classes,” which she summarily rejected and asked, “Have you ever heard of the Internet?”   That said, it has been fun and interesting to wade through this eclectic collection of papers and documents.

And this unsigned letter, a copy of which I made when I worked in the Clackamas County Elections Department dated October 25th 1974, may be evidence that the political environment hasn’t changed that much from years gone by:

During the late 60’s and 70’s with the Viet Nam War, the continuing US Civil Rights Movement and the Nixon Administration, the country was polarized and politics was a nasty business.   In subsequent years, there was a least a modicum of bipartisanship with many beneficial policy issues initiated, destructive and discriminatory past practices remedied and we lived in a more united country.

I have a real interest in history and my intention is not to poke fun at the author of this correspondence who obviously was under some delusional impressions.  (In fact, I admire the fact that he laboriously wrote a long letter notwithstanding his condition: “I am right-handed but have to write with my left hand.  Hope you can read it OK – broke my elbow.”)

The missive demonstrates at least some of the intense emotions of that period. Now, the country is again divided, communication is often acrimonious and we are faced with enormous challenges ranging from the pandemic, wildfires, climate change and unstable global affairs.  

Cheers

My prayer is that after the election we as a nation can unite to address these calamities with concrete actions rather than rancorous rhetoric and that friends with disparate political philosophies can again, raise a mug of their favorite beer.

Then have friendly and respectful discussions (safely and in person).  It seems that we now consciously avoid that kind of dialogue because it will jeopardize the future relationship.

And one final comment from a usually non-political Beerchaser blogger.  I have enjoyed sharing the examples of lies, bullshit and rationalizations above from three “great” literary works. 

It should be strongly noted, however, that there is a vast difference between the everyday exaggerations, fibs, and cock-and-bull stories that most of us utter and the outright lies and falsehoods spouted by both public officials and elected officeholders with deliberate intent to deceive thereby violating their oaths of office. These are  pathetic and disgraceful!

Although I’m now not a member of the same political party, I yearn for the days of bi-partisan politics and some of the great elected officials in Oregon.  My friend, Matt Love, who owns the Nestucca Spit Press – a publishing house on the Oregon Coast recently sent me this decal which will be another garage treasure which is a keeper!

A leader for the ages….

If you have not done so Vote on Tuesday!