By Jedediah Bila
One of the biggest complaints Americans have about our elected officials is that they lack authenticity. The current administration’s hope and change promises and transparency talk didn’t quite hold up when the tax cheats, backroom deals, and a bundle of former Clinton appointees rolled in with the “yes we can” posse.
But it’s important for us to remember that we give our elected officials the power they have. They hold the positions they do because we’ve put them there, plain and simple. So, when the inauthentic are chosen to lead, what does it say about us?
Think about American culture for a moment. We’ve somehow – as a society – come to revere the fake. Plastic surgery, phony spray tans, clip-on hair extensions, lip-syncing musicians, sugar substitutes. Even our reality TV is scripted and rehearsed. There’s something inside so many of us that has come to delight in what looks good, what sounds good, what tastes good – even if there’s nothing natural or sincere about it. So, why does it surprise us when we elect politicians whose pretty words, suave gestures, and fancy presentations are the garnish on empty plates?
I remember being fourteen years old and falling in love with Jay Gatsby in the film The Great Gatsby. There was just something about Jay – his charm, his gaze, his perfect imperfections. I even remember telling a friend, “It doesn’t matter what you’re saying when it sounds that good.”
Well, guess what? It does matter.
There may be no harm in Splenda with your morning coffee. Or a clip-on hair piece that gives you that extra bump in the crown. Or even a few mindless hours of watching reruns of MTV’s The Hills, despite the fact that you know a team of writers, set designers, and casting directors just fed you a “reality” that’s more Warner Brothers than average American afternoon.
But it’s imperative that at the end of the day, we’re still able to decipher the real from the sham, to separate what seems like music to our ears from the reality of what’s actually being said. And that we never lose an appreciation for the genuine, which may not always sound as tailor-made as its crafty counterpart.
That goes for our politics as well.
Polished and avant-garde shouldn’t automatically equal presidential. Honesty should. Integrity should. And we – as a society – should make it our job to tear off those spiffy exteriors and find out what’s underneath before we pledge allegiance to anyone or anything.
At the end of the day, it is our values and our priorities that are reflected in the leaders we choose.