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A Not-Quite-Parallel Universe: The Agenda in Politics

When I was first starting out in the newspaper business, one of my editors gave me some advice that has always stuck with me. “Remember,” he said, “that everyone you interview will have an agenda.”

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. A person’s agenda might involve promoting world peace, helping the hungry, or simply a need to be liked. On the other hand, it could be something much more self-serving.

The trick, in many cases, is separating the professed agenda from what lies beneath. Let’s start with politicians.

Here, it would seem, the real agenda should be obvious: a desire to remain in office. Given that, elected officials tend to work from an internal headcount, a constant reminder of where the most votes can be found. The stated plan is to validate and sympathize with the positions of that majority. Still, the internal goal is to convince those voters that only by re-electing that person will those positions be advanced. Should that majority migrate to another point on the ideological compass, their “leader” is likely to change his or her agenda too.

This is nakedly apparent in the loyalty most Republican members of Congress have consistently shown to President Trump, despite the distaste for him that many have expressed in private. Their support of Trump’s efforts to overturn the recent election reflects, in almost every case, are the beliefs of their personal stash of friendly voters. Once they determine that a negative tipping point toward Trump has been reached, they will begin to abandon that ship.

Trump himself is a master of multiple agendas. Almost every action he has carried out as president has been aimed at his 40 percent of loyal followers. Barely concealed even within that is an insatiable need to appease his raging ego.

On the larger playing field of Congress, it’s all about who controls the levers of power. Issues are only useful tools, not problems to be solved. What Barack Obama calls “truth decay” runs rampant.

New Alabama Senator Tommy Tuberville should fit right in. In one interview shortly after his election, he praised his father for fighting against “the socialists” in World War Two. Actually, the socialists were on our side, and the National Socialist Party conceived by Adolf Hitler was fascist — the polar opposite of socialism.

Tuberville also listed the three elements of the federal government as “the executive branch, the Republicans and the Democrats,” forgetting to include the judiciary. Of course, he wasn’t elected because of his breadth of governmental knowledge but for his general ideology — that, and his success as the former head football coach at Auburn University.

The problem is, the actual goals of Trump, Tuberville, and many others like them — from both parties — do not necessarily reflect the voters’ agendas. Yet, many of us allow ourselves to be seduced by candidates telling us what we want to hear. Despite the fact, the individual’s background and work history might contradict those public utterances.

We shouldn’t care whether or not the Republicans continue to control the Senate. We should only ask whether or not that would be good for the country. Mitch McConnell’s need for power and Donald Trump’s craving for personal validation reflect their agendas, not ours. Yet we allow politicians to manipulate us at the mere touch of a hot button — like abortion rights or gun control.

“Hillary will take your guns away,” Trump told voters in the 2016 election. “She wants to overturn the Second Amendment.”

Anyone who cared to do a little research would have seen that it is completely beyond any president’s power to do away with a Constitutional amendment — that’s a long and involved process that requires state approval.

Similarly, the hidden agendas of media outlets and Internet pundits always need to be examined. Doesn’t it seem odd that the pedophile ring described by QAnon followers is composed only of Democrats? Are there no Republican pedophiles? Does it bother anyone that even though most of the pronouncements of Info Wars’ Alex Jones are easily disproved, he is still raking in followers and money? Is the racial prejudice demonstrated by some police departments and individual officers really universal?

The media’s agenda, more often than not, is simply to grab our attention. If they can do that by scaring us, all the better. A couple of years ago, CNN reported that the College Lake dam in Lynchburg, VA was on the verge of rupturing, which would inundate a city of 70,000 to a depth of “five feet.”

Having spent many years in Lynchburg, I knew that College Lake was merely an overgrown pond, not something the size of Lake Michigan. Moreover, the city was considerably uphill from the dam, which meant that any rushing water from a dam break would be headed away from heavily populated areas. A simple phone call would have clarified this, but it was obviously too good a story to spoil. Oh, and the dam didn’t fail.

So is our agenda simply to be right, despite the stark presence of conflicting facts? Or is it to find out the truth, whether or not it fits our particular viewpoint?

The fact that Donald Trump demonstrably lies a lot (it’s right there on his Twitter feed) doesn’t necessarily mean that everything he proposes is a bad idea. There might be times when his plan and the public good happen to be aligned, even if it’s by accident.

Our job as citizens is not to ensure that the people who supposedly lead us can remain happily in power. Instead, it’s our job to make sure they serve us, not the other way around.

As the late singer Kenny Rogers put it so well: “The secret to surviving is knowing what to throw away and knowing what to keep.”

When you think about it, we have so many things in common as human beings to throw it away to loyalty to a political agenda.

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