More populist than thou

Let me take a moment to agree with all spinmeisters and talking heads, linked in my inbox this morning. Mister Tucker’s monologue on Fox News t’other evening (which I have now “watched” in video and transcript) was a “game-changer.” That is what we (present and former hacks and pandits) call a speech that outclasses the background noise. It makes listeners wonder, however fitfully, whether their sense of current history is right. It “galvanizes” those who, though they agreed with every proposition in advance, ne’er heard them so well expressed. (Gentle reader will find the thing on the Internet soon enough.)

As text, the speech is not so much argument as evasion of argument, with frequent appeals to the gallery. But as delivered, it is “fine talk,” and I was impressed by a sterling performance.

Gallantly, Mister Tucker has articulated the desire of the Right and Left-wavering to raise the tone of American politics to that of Bhutan. His most striking expressions called attention to the fact that material prosperity does not make people happy. Perhaps we should instruct the statisticians to replace their calculations of Gross Domestic Product, with Gross National Happiness, as they now do in Thimphu. The figure would still be meaningless, but might provide some modest, transient uplift.

In my humbly contrary view, material prosperity — i.e. getting filthy rich — does actually make people happy. Those who win the lottery do not cry from despair. But within a few months of scoring, and often within days, they have a new set of personal problems, to pile upon the old ones. Happiness, from material causes, does not last; not even for the poor. It is emotional catharsis. Something makes you happy; and then it fades away.

Only drugs can keep you happy, until you die. But the downside there is that they kill you.

In view of the current opioid crisis, I would observe that happiness is as fleeting as wealth, and should not be sought as an end in itself. I would rather refer to “a crisis of optimism.” People want happiness, seek it, win, then lose, and are left “more unhappier” than ever. We discover, if I may use an exceptionally rancid cliché, that “money can’t buy happiness” (it can buy spiffy yachts, however); and drugs only work while they are in your bloodstream. Were it not for the afterlife, drugs would be the better bet.

However, Mister Tucker is using the H-word (“happiness”) in something like the sense understood by those Merican Founding Fathers. Perhaps we might translate it “satisfaction” today, so to re-include the association with “contentment.” For there is a form of happiness that is not giddy, and comes with living well, regardless of income or other treats.

Politics can oppress people, but it cannot make them wiser or more sensible, independent of mind, or just. Happiness in the older sense has never required “political action.” Instead, it takes joy in friendship and community. One could be happy in a prison camp, or facing painful death. This has been done, I insist, though we are unlikely to have read about it in the MSM. A joyful happiness of this sort exists in a confident, i.e. faithful relation with God, and thus clarity in one’s prospect of a life that is eternal. Without that, the number of things to moan about grows and grows.

But prison camps and painful deaths are not good, in themselves. To want them, for ourselves or for others, would be a sign of psychic disorder. To this end, guvmint should at least be on the side of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That will not take us to Utopia, but is as close as we should go.

I notice that Mister Tucker, in his eloquent “take” on populism, turns instinctively to politics with his plea for relief. He, like the rest, thinks there is something the guvmint should be doing, other than what it is doing now. So do I, for that matter: I think the guvmint should be leaving us alone.

Rather than the State, I think the Church should be getting its act together, to instruct us once more on how not to be mendacious, self-destructive clowns. The worst thing about ecclesiastical scandals, sez I, is that they block Christ’s messaging. Indeed, that is more or less the definition of a scandal.

But politics is a game that everyone can play; an exceptionally nasty one. Rather than play, we should just grow up.


[My fortnightly Thing, on sanitary engineering, may be found here.]