Visitor column: Performative politics on the rise | opinion
The word “performative” has gained a lot in importance as a description of various political antics practiced today. Why is performative politics on the rise these days?
God gave humans (and, according to Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, dolphins) the unique power of reason; the ability to think and understand complexity, navigate chaos, and understand the mysteries nature confronts us. But as a joke, he gave us (but not the dolphins) a strong predilection for sitting on the couch and watching TV rather than wielding those great powers.
These conflicting impulses could co-exist when there were only three networks and one other channel showing pro-wrestling late on Friday night. If you could tear yourself away from wrestling, you could watch the news and just pick the network with the best reception. If you did, you knew pretty much the same thing about world events as anyone who had seen the other two.
The lack of programming allowed us more time to practice our remarkable skills. For example, we read words that were printed on paper; sometimes pages and pages of it in one sitting.
Our fate was sealed when the dolphins invented cable TV, the internet, and social media as a bigger joke.
As the exact opposite of the evolutionary input humanity desperately needed to really move forward, these unfortunate developments made us feel really smart without putting in all the work, and offered our couch-potato instincts an irresistible appeal in massive time – Devouring cans that limited our reading of words on paper on net carbohydrate labels on pizza boxes.
It is not surprising that modern politicians are listening and paying attention. Knowing actual progress on a subject is difficult and takes a lot of time and energy just to find a compromise that no one is really excited about and realize our diminished desire to think deeply when we might have a bunch instead of drama – why not just create the illusion of governance when voters sit still for it? And it looks like we’re going to do that.
In fact, the more persistent the problem, the more we seem to prefer theater, performance, and outrage, and the further we push real solutions forward.
In 2021, Texan lawmakers gave us a master class in performative politics that managed to avoid a multitude of COVID-19-related problems and left us with the costs of restoring an insular and disrupted power grid (which we didn’t really notice ) to dedicate entire 2 ½ legislative periods to the struggle for a solution to a problem that actually did not exist.
The Texas Republicans defeated the Democrats so thoroughly in 2020 that it would not have occurred to any of them to review the state’s electoral law. But the former president’s deranged and endless insistence on being betrayed, and Heritage Action’s permissive legal submission to suppress Democratic turnout, provided any GOP-controlled state legislature in the country with a pre-made opportunity for political theater that was just too good to forego it.
In Austin, while the Senate Republicans had many votes, they couldn’t help but add a minor insult to accompany the violation they would cause by passing their electoral law. Provisions aimed at “souls to the polls” and avoiding anyone having to prove that fraud actually took place before an election is rejected slipped into the version of the bill presented to the House of Representatives.
Sandbag Democrats, lacking in votes but feeling that the best way to counter the GOP theater was to have their own theater, headed to Washington, where they could maximize their own visibility on cable and social media . As you might guess, this delighted the dolphins.
And so it goes. Everyone is back in Austin now as the curtain closes on this special act. The indignation of some Texans will be justified; that of the others will continue to burn. But we don’t get the solutions we need, we get the ones we deserve – but at least they come with a show. We could blame the dolphins. According to the book, they are planned for a possible departure and leave us a message – “So long and thanks for all the fish.”
Maybe we should stop feeding them now.