It never ceases to amaze me how so many Americans are not only ill-informed but apparently prefer to remain hopelessly lost in their own self-imposed ignorance. Case in point, while driving on the road just today I happened to be behind a van that had a bumper sticker on it, which read:
HOWS MY DRIVING CALL XXX-XXX-XXXX
Not, HOW’S MY DRIVING? CALL … or HOW IS MY DRIVING? CALL …
What was so sad about the sticker was that somebody obviously took the time to write it out and have it printed up, and did not even bother to check it for the correct punctuation. I’ve been noticing that and other grammatical errors, such as “There going out to lunch,” instead of “They’re going out to lunch” or “Your really not going their are you?” instead of “You’re really not going there, are you?” or “Its raining cats and dogs,” instead of “It’s raining cats and dogs.” It reminds me of that famous comedian, whose name escapes me at the moment, who did a routine about illiteracy by announcing, “I is a college graduate!” Most of the audience got it, but it wouldn’t surprise me if a certain percentage were completely oblivious to the slight.
What scares me most is that the percentage of people who aren’t getting it in America is growing and, worse, they apparently don’t seem to care one bit. Indeed there is a swelling pride in somehow being perceived as “simple” or “plain” that has become appealing in a perverse sort of way. Conversely, to be thought of as well-spoken and articulate is rapidly being frowned upon and thought of as elitist and snobbish. It’s like that classic joke about the difference between ignorance and apathy? The response of “I don’t know and I don’t care” has now become the official anthem for a new world order.
And it isn’t just the sloppy use of language that is disconcerting. The lack of intellectual curiosity about how things work and an almost pathological pursuit of the lowest common denominator of understanding is frighteningly apparent to anyone with a modicum of awareness. Both have risen almost exponentially over the last few years.
If you’re looking for empirical evidence of this malaise in the culture look no further than the spectacle of the GOP debates. The current front-runner Herman Cain – Mr. Godfather himself – has risen to the top, not by meticulously explaining the problems that currently beset our tax code, but by reducing it down to a cheap and easy to remember catch-phrase: 9-9-9! Sounds more like the price of one of Cain’s pizzas, than a solution to what ails the common taxpayer, doesn’t it?
Forget for a moment that nobody who understands even the basics of tax law believes it is workable, that’s not important. Cain connected on a visceral level with a segment of the population so fed up with the complexities and frustrations of an inefficient system that they have elected to throw the baby out with the bathwater rather than try to grapple with a workable framework. And Cain has capitalized on his good fortune not by challenging their ignorance, but by enabling and encouraging it.
Not to be outdone, old Quick Draw McGraw, Rick Perry, came out with his own “simple” tax plan. In his scheme you get a choice: stay with the old, convoluted system with all its confusing deductions and exemptions, or opt for a flat 20% tax rate that even a child could understand. That the target audience for both Cain and Perry fails to grasp that under both plans the amount they pay in taxes would actually go up is apparently irrelevant. The only thing that matters is that both men are appealing to a baser instinct within that demographic that eschews anything even remotely complicated for a softer, easier to comprehend resolution.
The public may demand accountability and answers, but it has no stomach for the gory details. As one political pundit once put it, “It likes the sausage, it just doesn’t want to see how it’s made.” The result has been a lot of flimflam artists selling snake oil as health tonic to an awful lot of lost and sick souls who neither have the inclination or the capacity to realize they’re being flimflammed.
As a retail salesman I often employed this technique of dumbing it down to capitalize on my customers’ inability to decipher anything remotely difficult. It made me a fair share of money along the way. Do I regret it? At times, yes. But the fact is if I hadn’t dumbed it down, my competition would’ve. Barnum was right. There is a sucker born every minute.
As of right now, the American public is that sucker and it is being taken for the ride of its life by a very shrewd and manipulative political process that is capitalizing on its fears and frustrations by promising it the world with a song and a dance. Before this song and dance are through an awful lot of dazed and confused dullards are going to be in for the shock of their lives. And the worst thing of all is that these dullards willingly lined up for the shock.