When Our Emotions Hijack Our Politics

When you think of the election, your response puts you in one of three camps.

You love candidate A and despise candidate B.

You love candidate B and despise candidate A.

You despise both candidates and are weighing your options between voting for the lesser evil, voting third party, abstaining, or threatening to leave the country (again).

Most of the conversations I hear tend to revolve around the question, “How did we get here?”

Though in every election season, there’s always the sentiment of “How did THAT person end up being one of our choices,” it seems a lot more widespread in this one.

So I’ll answer these questions:

  • How we ended up with our current candidates
  • Why so many people support them (whether you hate one or both of them)
  • What you can do about it


It’s Not the Candidates’ Fault… Fully

It’s really easy to criticize a candidate for their thoughts, their words, and their conduct. Yes, they do have a burden of responsibility. We’ve seen how any influential individual can sway an audience in one direction or another.

Yet what’s hard to ignore is that there are millions of people who hold those same beliefs. As much as we love to hate a candidate, we tend to ignore or downplay their supporters. The candidate simply voices the deepest feelings of people – their hopes, their fears, their values, and their prejudices.

The harder thing to admit is that these are your friends, your family, your coworkers, and your neighbors. They are real people who believe things completely counter to what you believe, or even what you thought they believed.

So by placing blame on a specific candidate for their horrible conduct and views, keep in mind that you have to blame the people who supported their rise, and inevitably admit that maybe that’s norm of what a majority of people believe.

But… I don’t think that’s fully the case. It’s not what people believe, it’s what they FEEL.


In Politics & Culture, the Best Story Teller Wins

We love stories. We connect and relate to stories much more than pure information. Marketing isn’t about telling you how great a product is. Marketing is about telling the story of how great the product will make you. That’s why it works.

The same goes for political candidates. The one with the best story wins. The best story creates a clear enemy, whether it be Washington or billionaires or immigrants. It taps into a deep fear and insecurity, and concentrates that into hate for your enemy. The best story offers an easy solution to get rid of the enemy and promises that everything will be solved. Wrap that up in a catchy slogan and you’ve got yourself a political campaign.

It doesn’t matter if it’s true or not. It doesn’t matter if it’s realistic or not. As long as it’s easy to understand and gets us riled up, we’ll eat it up.

Related Read: Stop Believing Fake News & Making the World a Dumber Place

That’s why all the more moderate candidates dropped out early on. On both sides, they were the candidates that leaned towards the center, had realistic plans, were level-headed, and had a strategy of incremental improvement. They would have been the ones to make the most progress.

But who wants that? It’s not sexy enough. It’s too boring. We want a story where we follow our leader to fight all our enemies and turn the whole system upside down.

And so we end up with our current candidates. They lack competency, strategy, character, or all 3. But they tell one hell of story.

Related Read: Nobody “Tells It Like It Is”


Our Emotions Corrupt Our Logic & Reasoning

If you take the more extreme candidates on both sides, you find that none of what they say makes sense. Not that it’s challenging – it’s simply illogical. They might as well say that unicorns are going to solve all of America’s problems.

They’re catch phrases, slogans and promises that sound great, but have no basis in reality. Yet we throw all logic out the window and connect to it on a raw emotional level.

Emotions are great – they make us human. They help us form relationships and establish community. But they are absolutely horrible when it comes to making good decisions.

Related Read: Why Anger is the Most Viral Emotion on Social Media

When we buy into our emotions, we can rationalize anything we want. Completely absurd ideas seem perfectly reasonable. And the most popular politicians capitalize on that.

When we feel like we’re struggling or suffering, we want a fast and simple solution. Even if there isn’t one, we want to believe it exists. So when someone taps into our deepest fears and magnifies them, we relate with that person. When they explain those fears as the result of an enemy, we agree with them. And when they present themselves as someone who can destroy that enemy and solve your problems, we trust them.

That’s what we’ve done with our candidates. Their ideas are incoherent, inconsistent, and impractical. But their narrative makes us feel so good to be understood and heard. So we ignore the reasoning behind it.

Our emotions are selfish. Our emotions betray our logic. And when unchecked, our emotions corrupt our worldview, sabotage our decisions, and subsequently hijack our politics.

The government isn’t the problem. The billionaires aren’t the problem. The immigrants and Muslims and Mexicans and China and any random group of people you come up with off the top of your head aren’t the problem.

Our democracy is a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. The problem is you.


In the End, Democracy is On You

Democracy was conceived in ancient Greece with the belief that informed people could debate and reason together to arrive at the best solution that would do the greatest good for the greatest number of people.

Yet history and society have proven that pure democracy isn’t possible. When people get in groups, their emotions feed off each other and forms a mob mentality that seeks an enemy to destroy. That’s why political rallies are so effective.

So we created our current system – a democratic republic, or a representative democracy. We elect people to make decisions on our behalf, with the hope and belief that ultimate power comes from us, and is placed in an individual who could make swifter, wiser, and more rational decisions that a crowd could not.

But the flaw in that is you still have groups of people who make emotional, irrational decisions when selecting their representative. Politicians know that and play into it. We’re then left with candidates who know their target audience and say whatever the people want to hear. In essence, they’re the greatest marketers in the world.

I don’t care where you stand on the political spectrum. I don’t care who you vote for. Just have an intelligent reason for voting for them.

If you can, detach yourself. Detach yourself from your party. Detach yourself from the crowds and the media. Detach yourself from your emotions.

And think.

Look at the facts. Exert some effort into understanding the information. Examine the platform. Does it makes sense? Is it really feasible? How is this going play out? Is it really the best for everyone? Will it bring out the best in everyone?

Then vote on your reasoning and your conscience. Not your emotions.

Go beyond voting once every four years. Vote in your state and local elections. Email your representatives. Talk politics with your friends. Use reasoning, not emotions. Have intelligent conversations.

Maybe when democracy happens at the level of our daily lives, we’ll actually have a government that’s for the people, and not the circus that it is in this election.

[bctt tweet=”When democracy happens at the level of our daily lives, we’ll have a government that’s for the people.” username=”stevenlma”]


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