The politicians we deserve?

By JubileeCentre 10 Oct 2016

flag-75047_640By Guy Brandon, 10/10/16

There’s a saying that we get the politicians we deserve. It’s the corollary of Churchill’s idea that democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.

In the wake of Donald Trump’s ‘hot mic’ episode, the BBC summed up yesterday’s presidential debate as follows:

That was one of the most extraordinarily vicious, dark and nihilistic presidential debates we’ve ever seen. Ever. Trump accused Clinton of attacking women involved in her husband’s extramarital affairs and declared she would “be in jail” if he were president. Clinton fought back, saying that Trump’s vulgar comments about women revealed “exactly who he is” and highlight his unsuitability to be president. But she seemed at times taken aback by the sheer brutality of the onslaught. Just savage.

Whoever won the debate (polls differ but the consensus seems to be Clinton – something reflected in the value of the Mexican Peso…), and whoever ultimately wins the election, no one looks good here.

These are, after all, two of the least popular presidential candidates in history. Both have numerous skeletons in varying degrees of decomposition and stages of emergence from their respective closets. As in our own recent referendum, here in the UK, the result of the vote will probably be a nation divided almost 50-50. Or rather, the vote will highlight the divisions that already exist, and have long existed, in the US.

There’s a case for saying that the problem here isn’t one of politics. It’s one of culture. Critics hoping to see Donald Trump’s campaign finally and irrevocably implode over his lewd remarks were disappointed. But why should we have expected that? We can agree they were ‘beyond the pale’ in principle but the reality is that this view is not borne out in wider culture. The Everyday Sexism project and #NotOkay Twitter tags document the sheer normality of sexism and sexual assault. Both are regular themes of popular TV drama, and there’s a fine line between suggesting that art is holding up a mirror to life, or raising awareness, and exploiting them as entertainment and further normalising such behaviours. Actress Doon Mackichan has recently spoken out about how ‘“brutalised women” have become “entertainment fodder”’. More broadly, we participate by buying products marketed with oversexualised advertising; if it didn’t work, the advertisers would try something different.

We vote not just with a cross on a ballot but with our wallets and our time. Entertainment, culture, commerce, politics – none can be compartmentalised from the others. If we lack effective leadership in one area of our culture, it’s a red flag that something is likely wrong with the others too.

As just one concrete example of how we could start to bring about change: what if mainstream businesses committed to avoiding sexualised advertising, knowing that this was harmful to the wider culture, and that enough people felt the same to make it a viable and even popular strategy? Could one be found to adopt this kind of cultural leadership?

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