Greed, Fears, and Dreams

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?

4 thoughts on “Greed, Fears, and Dreams”

  1. aleciaf says:

    If Trump is elected, his inability to compromise with anyone would likely ensure that none of his promises could be kept, or even begun. As for the Dems, Sanders has a congressional record that varies from slightly nutty to almost do-nothing. Hillary has a record of being able to get bills passed, but that was before Congress became a totally ideological war zone. Unless there is a massive turnover of Congress, we will unlikely see much of anything changing except, possibly, with the SCOTUS, and heaven helps us if they put another conservative ideologue in place.

  2. invah says:

    >Because they’re appealing to people’s fears, greed, or dreams… or some combination thereof.

    I am reminded of Terry Goodkind’s idea that people believe a lie because they want to believe it’s true or are afraid it might be true.

    I find your perspective intriguing – the promises are intended to show membership in the tribe, and function as a mechanism for in-group signaling – and it makes sense that they would work that way, practically speaking.

    But I think that the promises are taken at face-value, and may (or may not) be given at face value. For example, I always got the impression that first-election Obama made those promises intending to uphold them, such as closing Guantanamo Bay. Obviously that didn’t happen for multiple reasons.

    Running for President is actually remarkably similar to running for Class President. You promise ice cream for every lunch, and less homework, but the *actual* point of the position is to co-ordinate school dances and other activities. There is no real way to deliver on those promises, but no one seems to know what the job description is before they get it.

    Of the current candidates, I suspect that Hillary has the clearest understanding of the job description and duties – THIS IS NOT AN ENDORSEMENT – but that is something of a fluke. How many people that close to the Oval Office end up running for President?

    The American people certainly don’t understand the job description or what it requires; the American people didn’t have a cultural understanding of the electoral college until 2000 with Bush v. Gore. It is only during this election cycle that the people understand that the Republican and Democratic parties are private organizations and not an arm of the government. Not to mention the sudden in-depth examination of the super delegate system.

    You mention in one of the Imager novels that Lord Bhayar only appoints those who already have their own sources of power to positions of power. I’ve always wondered how this translates to your personal experience.

    I’ve seen some interesting comparisons of Trump to Berlusconi.

    1. I’ve seen people with independent power use political power wisely, and I’ve seen them misuse it horribly. The same was true of those without previous power. Those with previous power, in general, tended to be a bit more restrained in using power, but not always, as Trump exemplifies. One of the problems people with economic and financial power often have is that they fail to understand the shifting and uncertain nature of political power and the fact that bureaucracies ALWAYS develop for a reason or series of reasons. Unless a political leader understands those reasons, he or she will likely fail, and I’ve seen all too many very successful business people and executives do just that.

  3. Alan says:

    I’ve had a very similar discussion of many of these points with a variety of co-workers and acquaintances who’s political view range the spectrum. The consensus is roughly what you’ve already suggested. People want to believe, or hope, that the man telling the biggest lies will at least try to do something. Anything, really, would be sufficient.

    In one of David Weber’s books about Honor Harrington, the central character is introduced to the notion of the Big Lie. Meaning that the bigger the lie, the more likely people are to believe it. Being certain, in their own foolish way, that no one could make up something that hugely far fetched. There for it MUST be true. Perhaps that is what the American electorate feels when they listen to the candidates?

    They tend to forget that when Obama, whom most want to deride and ridicule, made big claims about universal medical care, they were all on board. Now they are stuck with the Affordable Care Act. Something they really don’t understand, but they feel the impact of daily. Their costs have gone up and the care they get is worse.

    Yet Obama did manage to get the ACA passed into law. If Trump could accomplish a tenth of what he claims, they say, maybe things would be better?

    It seems that too much of what people believe is based on wishful thinking, hopes and dreams, instead of real life.

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