I once attended a show put on by a magician. It was a small audience, and the magician let me sit next to him. I swore to myself that I would scrutinize his every move and catch him at his tricks. Yet time after time he executed his magic flawlessly and left me completely awed. I finally asked him the obvious — how did he do it? He smiled, and said one word: “Misdirection.”
The idea behind misdirection is to have your audience focus on one thing while you accomplish something entirely different. That idea perfectly describes a political strategy that is in its death throes in the present presidential campaign. Certain moneyed interests (not by any means all) sought to add to their wealth. The general means are obvious: make larger profits and pay out less in taxes. To do that, they needed to pay less to the workers who made their products and slash the revenue of government.
But there are vastly more workers than there are moneyed interests, and this is a democracy. So, to accomplish their goals, the moneyed interests needed to somehow convince the majority of the people to support this program, even though it was directly against the interests of the people. How do you do that? Simple: misdirection.
How do you get people to give up their right to organize and bargain collectively for a living wage? Tell them that unions are taking away their freedom. How do you get people to give up their right to have decent medical insurance? Tell them universal health insurance would take away their right to choose their own doctor. How do you get people to allow taxes on the wealthy to be slashed? Call the wealthy “job creators.” How do you get people to vote in politicians who will do the bidding of the moneyed interests? Talk about gun rights and abortion and same sex marriage and anything you can think of that will distract the people from realizing that they are voting in politicians who will strip them of a living wage and of their basic needs. In a phrase, divide and conquer. Convince enough people to buy into your program, and hope they don’t notice what they are giving up.
Here is the thing, however. Sooner or later, the people wake up and realize that their pockets have been picked. Sooner of later, they realize that their wages are dropping, that basic things like insurance and retirement are beyond their means, that their roads and bridges are falling apart, that their schools are collapsing, that even the most fundamental needs — food and clothing and housing — are being priced beyond their reach.
When all of that occurs, one of two things happen. Either the people come to their senses and vote out the politicians who have been doing the bidding of the moneyed interests who have been funding them, or, if that doesn’t happen, the people revolt.
This, I submit, is the choice that the people face in the coming elections. If we vote in someone who will dismantle Obamacare, gut Social Security and do away with Medicare, we will end with nationwide violence. That is an awful thought, and I beg someone to show me what other alternative exists. If, on the other hand, we vote out those politicians who have been complicit in this strategy of misdirection, we face a long, arduous road back to fulfilling the democratic ideal upon which our country was founded. Long, yes. Arduous, yes. But I yearn for it.