Over the last six months or longer, we’ve had the assorted candidates for president make various promises stating that, if they were elected, they would expel all illegal immigrants, provide a free college education for young people, create Medicare for everyone, build a wall the entire length of the U.S. southern border to keep out any more illegal immigrants, end “birthright” citizenship, abolish the IRS, lower U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 30% in ten years, “wage a real war on terror,” and… about a hundred other promises, the majority of which have been tossed off and out by Donald Trump.
Speaking as someone who spent twenty years in national politics at the federal level, I can say, without much fear of contradiction by subsequent events, that none of the promises I listed will happen and most likely only a handful of the less “comprehensive” promises have any chance of being considered, let alone enacted or successfully promulgated through executive orders.
So why do politicians knowingly make such empty promises?
Because they’re appealing to people’s fears, greed, or dreams… or some combination thereof.
In a way, such promises are little more than a way of saying, “I understand what concerns you, what you want out of life, and what you want for your family and children.” The fact that such promises have gotten more and more outrageous over the years, at least here in the United States, is, I believe, a reflection of people’s distrust and disbelief in politicians. They no longer believe a simple statement like, “I understand the problems you face.” So the politicians make even bigger promises, with the underlying hope, one that has some reality behind it, that a grandiose promise might just translate into some smaller action in the same area. Or that the politician will at least attempt something.
It’s clear from the results of the presidential primaries so far that very few of each candidate’s supporters care very much about the actual impracticality of such promises. Only those opposing a candidate consider such impracticalities or impossibilities, even while they tacitly accept the impractical promises voiced by their own chosen candidate.
The only problem with all this is… what happens if a candidate does get elected with enough support to try to build a wall, throw out all illegal immigrants, or fund college educations for everyone? Or… what happens if the candidate tries… and is stopped?
After a year of political unrest and anger, those may not be rhetorical questions. And then what?