I like the title of this article.
“Image of a Statesman” wound up sounding a lot like “Death of a Salesman,” and I’m going to sort of reinforce that comparison. The reason our political system is such utter nonsense is the dichotomic adherence to the appearance of principled behaviour that we, as an entire society, seems to carry without a hint of irony even as we ridicule elections for not being about substantive issues.
By that I mean, you can’t sit there and worry about the visual and verbal differences between Obama and Trump, declare one “less professional” than the other and begin to judge based on that perception while simultaneously deriding politics for being too image-based.
That’s intensively hypocritical and reeks of a complete lack of critical thinking. Worse, people, I think, understand, intellectually, that they are doing this and continue to do it anyway. So let’s talk about that a little bit today, and once we hash out what it is we’re doing, we can talk about how to fix it and make sure the right people get elected.
The image of a statesman is something that has been important since pre-history. Cato, a Roman senator, was once made so powerful that he was able to slow the rise of the pre-eminent military commander of his day to the highest positions of power (a little-known general named “Caesar”) simply because of his reputation.
Cato was seen as the embodiment of Roman Republican values. Integrity, ambition, personal strength, and steadfastness along with a sweeping eloquence were his hallmarks. Does Cato, perhaps, remind you of anyone you might have voted for, recently?
Contrast him with his major opponent, Julius Caesar. Caesar was adulterous, brutal, in cahoots with a moneylender and a military strongman (Marcus Crassus and Pompey the Great, respectively) and lied outrageously about more or less everything. Caesar wound up winning his political office by bribery (mostly of the voting classes) and through the great name he made for himself by conquering and annexing Gaul for Rome—military triumphs, again, were a major element in political power back in the day. Politics, essentially, by other means.
Cato, seeing it happen, wound up committing suicide by opening his guts with a sword in the middle of the night. Why? Because his values—his reputation—could not tolerate being “forgiven” by Julius Caesar for the “crimes against the state” accusations which Caesar would inevitably bring against him. Cato had, on several occasions, acted politically against the future Dictator-for-Life.
Caesar’s clemency, naturally, was meant to indebt people to him and force their agreement to his dictates. It was also a subtly persuasive tool which meant that hostile forces could consider surrendering to him with the oft-correct assumption that he would not have them killed. It’s sort of like crucifying people as an example, except you’re pointedly not crucifying people as an example.
When Caesar threw his big parade celebrating his ascension to Dictator (totally not an Emperor at all guys) there was a float which showed Cato killing himself, with, I guess, paper mache blood and guts and whatnot. Supposedly, the crowd was uncomfortably silent and oddly sad as that particular float made the rounds.
Shows you what the image of a statesman can do, doesn’t it? But let’s look at what the two men were actually about.
Caesar was a huge reformer. He was corrupt, brutal, conspiring and possibly treasonous, yes, but Rome was starving and on the verge of disintegrating at the time. The Republic was dealing with the aftereffects of the Sulla Felix prescriptions and coming out of an era where civil war was a constant.
Caesar restored order to the Republic for a short while (before being assassinated) and liberalised a lot of things. Cato, meanwhile, was hardcore conservative and mostly did things which benefited what you might think of as Rome’s 1%.
Which was better? The answer to that question has always and will always depends on who you are. The only thing that doesn’t matter is what they looked like while they were doing stuff.
The image of a statesman is a lie as constant and obscene as makeup. It damages everything by filtering discourse through a layer of referent material that people might not even know they have which ticks through traits and speech patterns and manner of dress and whatnot as being “acceptable” or “not acceptable.”
First, it hurts the person who has to maintain that image. They are never allowed to be genuine ever again, because their position and power has either entirely or somewhat to do with that image. Make a facade the fulcrum of your entire being, and you have to keep that facade consistent forever.
Secondly, it hurts everyone who looks at it. They can now never tell if and when that person wearing that image is ever genuine—there’s no external contrast. No data-set against which they can compare current to past activity. These people can now say or do anything they want, so long as it fits the aesthetic of their image, and no one will ever be the wiser about whether it’s genuine or not.
As you may have noticed about politics, aesthetic is mostly a result of justifying things in a particular light.
That is exactly why these things are important, even in politics.
Pretending that the experiences, truths, formative events and other identity-constructing phenomena aren’t what you use to decide what to do is completely insane. It means that you can sort of ignore all the subjective relativism that so stains current discourse, right now—like, those people who sit around going, “it doesn’t matter, because if the facade is what you do then it’s not really a facade anymore.”
I accept that argument, but only if you have the infrastructure built to support the facade. Like, a hippy who’s never worked a job in his or her life is ever going to suddenly become an arch-conservative business tycoon. We have our roots, and generally, the neuroplasticity argument (which, boiled down, essentially begins to limit your options to your experiences more or less at birth by limiting the size and density of the grey matter so that only finite numbers of new passageways and structures can be developed) begins immediately to put horizons on our potential.
This means that your average person is going to do what they grew up doing, and may develop a series of arguments and justifications for what they do and why so that they can fit a particular aesthetic.
They can become extremely convincing about it.
For example, we have a recently stepped-down President who talks and talks and talks about peace. He continues to talk about it, while waging war against the current President. The most amazing thing about our former President is that the country that he led was at war for the entire tenure of his reign.
Every. Single. Second.
The USAF, under President Obama, stacked up Muslim corpses like firewood. He bombed seven countries during his reign, while funding and arming organisations like ISIL in their formative stages to combat established regimes in Syria, Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Yet, the thing you will hear the least about Mr. Obama is that he was un-statesmanlike. This is sort of what I mean by the division between the image and the actual doings of things. You can talk about peace, then justify going to war… for peace… and somehow, people will be willing to believe that that’s all rationally consistent because look, he’s such a statesman! He dresses so well and talks so nice.
It all fits into our image of a statesman nonsense. Obama wore a very convincing layer of makeup, old people and women bought it, and it let him do whatever he wanted.
The reverse also works. The talk about Trump has always been the same, ever since he was an upstart businessman in New York in the 1970s. He’s loud. Self important. Doesn’t have much in the way of manners. Doesn’t obey the rules. Isn’t polite.
Those are the complaints of a person who is very concerned with our image of a statesman. It’s one of the major tells you can sort of use to figure out whether the person you’re talking with has ever used critical thinking.
Critical thinking, after all, is learned behaviour. It has to be practiced, and once a person embraces it, it becomes mannerism. It must be applied to everything.
The image of a statesman is one of the things that perishes almost immediately in the face of that type of thinking. It is the most basic level of critical thinking to ignore what someone is saying and look at the impact that they are having.
What did Obama do?
Tripled national debt. Made another attempt at Communism in a world of finite resources. Fomented massive racial tensions. Lost seven different wars, destabilized the entire Middle-East, and very nearly plunged the United States into a war of Great Powers with Russia—now known as Nuclear Powers for a reason.
That’s your statesman, for you. You know, at least he talked really well.
What has Trump done? What he can. The whole point here is that we have no idea. It’s very difficult to judge what someone is doing in a job before they’ve even been in that job for a few months.
However, we are getting floods of judgements about how incompetent his administration is, how upsetting he is personally, how badly he’s doing—it’s all nonsense. It’s all born out of his disinterest in our image of a statesman.
Image of a statesman transitions into the death of a salesman. You have to think of politics as a never-ending sales pitch during election season, and for some particularly hapless Presidents, during their term.
Trump is doing the opposite. He’s not selling to the people that Presidents normally sell to. In fact, he’s picked a fight with those very people; the same people who transport the image of a statesman into your living room. The same people whose whole idea this image-based political system actually might have been in the first place.
The liberal media, who are now so powerful that they can attack the President of the United States on the basis that he does not totally fit the image of a statesman.
You wonder why his campaign has been about the media to this point. Well, this is why. The liberal or mainstream media is like the Agent caste in the movie The Matrix. They had been guarding all the doors and had been holding all the keys until the outbreak of the Internet-based alternate media, and now they’re fighting for their lives with the only cards they have left.
The biggest mistake that we can make as human beings is to allow politics to progress unfettered. Politics is control over tax revenue and central force. That’s it. The only resource that the government controls is tax revenue and where it goes. They use it to pay the army and the police, so the army and police are loyal to the state irrelevant of who is in charge.
Politics is literally the entire fabric of human existence. If we return to the beginning of this piece, where I contended that we deride politics as being image-based? Well, now you are probably beginning to understand the argument that I’m about to make.
Politics is not image based. Things don’t run by themselves. A person of a certain sort is likely to recruit people of their own sort, and all those people of a type deployed across the control points of an entire national infrastructure provide that nation with its identity. What it does, how it does it, and when.
Why it does things is completely irrelevant, because justifications to appeal to the image of a statesman as the governing aesthetic which in turn prevents the mainstream media from asking too many questions, which means the polity never knows what the government is doing, or how it’s doing it, or when it’s going to do it.
This lack of basic information that we get would be useless even if we had it, because context is meaning. Context, in terms of national policy, requires pervasive knowledge of history and economics and demographics.
The other thing that our image of a statesman aesthetic does is remove all the need for any kind of context. All the context you need is: does what President Trump is doing look… I dunno, statesmanlike?
Since the answer provided by the media is always, “no,” you don’t actually need to do any research or think about anything. It can’t be good if it doesn’t look statesmanlike! Presidents are supposed to be statesmanlike!
Even by revolting in this manner, we leave politics unfettered. We are not acting. We are talking, while President Trump does whatever he wants anyway. You can’t resist anything he does with peaceful protest, and you can’t resist with Internet memes; you have to employ force, and the only way you could know how to do that is by already understanding the context of the way in which the world works rather than sitting around whining about how statesmanlike people are. As though it was a comparative statistic—it’s not; the definition is comparative, instead, which means total value is relative and therefore purposeless.
I’ll one-line all that. By worrying about the window dressing, you are ignorant about what’s going on inside the store, and are therefore powerless to change it.
Do your research. Talk. Learn things. Stop worrying about image; it’s just a justification.