Shameless politicians reflect a shameless society
We see stories in the media about everyday people doing or saying something deemed so unforgivable they are “canceled.” Social media attacks gin up so much hatred and public opinion deems their sins too great for redemption.
Meanwhile politicians and Hollywood celebrities seem to get passes on everything, and we don’t blink an eye.
Welcome to the age of shamelessness.
It is disappointing that our society often looks the other way when Hollywood stars behave badly, but it is inexcusable that so many of our elected lawmakers do the same with no consequence.
Yes, there are instances where a legislator does or says something that ends his career, as in the cases of Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) and Rep. Trent Frank (R-Ariz.), who both resigned separately amid allegations of sexual harassment. But those instances are few and far between.
Politicians today know that there is typically very little cost to bad behavior. In fact, behaving badly actually gives them a boost.
Gone are the days when it was considered an embarrassment if you were caught lying in politics. Now it’s the order of the day. In the past, if you said things that were demonstrably false, your reputation took a big hit, no matter your political party. No more.
The actions that even a decade ago would have spelled the end of a political career now don’t even warrant footnotes. In fact, the more controversy politicians gin up, the faster contributions roll into their reelection funds.
The result is that a number of Members of Congress actually spend more time on social media stoking outrage than working on substantive issues important to their constituencies. It’s happening across both parties, and you see it all day, every day.
What’s most alarming is that our politicians are a symptom of a societal problem. They are a reflection, a mirror held up to American society. What we see should terrify us.
The system we have now rewards the lunatic fringe, instead of punishing it. The loudest mouths dominate the national agenda and news feeds — even if they have the least political clout
Time and again, the media takes the bait. While the stated goal may be to hold these loudmouths accountable for their words and actions, the unintended consequence is amplifying their outrageous rhetoric and helping spur further bad behavior.
Lawmakers taped making outrageous claims, supporting conspiracy theories, fabricating narratives or lying have become a norm.
The result is an endless cycle of vitriol where attention-seeking Senators and House members say and do crazy things with the goal of securing media coverage. Meanwhile, the press legitimizes and propels their loony antics even further by covering them and making them newsworthy.
Let’s face it: Boring policy wonks who are actually involved in the hard work of legislating don’t make for good TV, nor do they provide click-worthy fodder for social media.
Instead, it’s the politicians who continue to do and say the craziest things who reap rewards in the form of press coverage and campaign donations from fervent partisans.
This cycle of inflated prestige and notoriety for largely ineffective backbenchers will continue to spiral downward until we start simply ignoring them. Until the mainstream media focus more on things that actually matter than on cynical opportunists in search of self-promotion and self-interest. Until then, we will get more of the same.
Evan Nierman is CEO of crisis PR firm Red Banyan and author of “Crisis Averted: PR Strategies to Protect Your Reputation and the Bottom Line.”
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