First of all, we’ll change the names to protect the guilty, but otherwise it happened just like this…
About five years ago, a conversation took place between two lifelong friends: “I can’t believe you’re not going to vote for Pagliacci!”
“I don’t trust Pagliacci, but I’m not going to vote for Krusty either. Besides, what business is it of yours who I vote for? Let’s talk about something else.”
“Don’t you understand how crucial this election is? There’s so much at stake, and we need to decide right now what kind of world we want our grandchildren to live in!”
Krusty won that election and the two old friends barely spoke for several years, due primarily to the enduring anger and ongoing state of emergency experienced by the Pagliacci supporter. Eventually the two reconciled, but things were never the same. Loneliness and resentment moved in to replace fellowship. Years of laughter and support which could have been, were lost forever, all because two friends didn’t agree about two clowns whom they had never met, and never would meet.
Years later Krusty the Clown ran for re-election against Bozo the Clown and lost. In the run-up to the election, a different pair of old friends began to disagree.
“I think Krusty really is a clown.”
“Maybe, but Krusty is the only clown talking about the things that are important to us! If Bozo wins, the whole circus is going to change and the price of tickets will go through the roof! Don’t you realize that Bozo is also coming for our balloons? Have you seen the price of helium lately? It might be unpleasant, but if you care about the future you’ve got to vote for Krusty!”
“I don’t know who I’m going to vote for, or if I’m going to vote for president at all. Besides, it’s nobody’s business how I vote. That’s why they have that little curtain that you pull shut when you go into the voting booth.”
After Bozo won the election, the Krusty supporter stopped returning his friend’s calls. A friendship which had spanned most of their lives was put on hold. Fellowship was replaced by loneliness and resentment, all because two lifelong friends disagreed about two clowns whom they had never met, and never would meet.
I wish that these anecdotes were rare examples of the divisive influence of politics on human relationships, but unfortunately they are not. I’ve previously shared a story from 80 years ago about how my father lost his student deferral and was drafted in an act of political retribution because his father voted “wrong” in a local election. Rewind to the 19th century when Jonathan Swift wrote the classic, “Gulliver’s Travels,” which presented a parody of British politics in the conflict between Lilliput and Blefescu over which end of an egg should be cracked. Go back another hundred years or a thousand years and the same dynamics still play out.
If every human on the planet emerged from the same test tube and we all were a uniform shade of purple and we all had green eyes and pink hair and we all ate hard boiled eggs and listened to Taylor Swift (the horror), we would still find ways to separate ourselves. Someone would discover they preferred their eggs boiled 6 minutes instead of 11, and a political party would be born. The elevensies would accuse the sixers of being too soft on the palate and the sixers would accuse the elevensies of being eggist.
Before we knew it, every election would be critical to the survival of humanity itself, especially if we were also blessed, or cursed, with a ubiquitous web of instant communication, breaking news and intentionally curated information.
Which brings us back to the real-ish world and my friends, and probably some of yours as well, who are still squabbling over circus clowns. It is a political master stroke, a mark of truly evil genius that a mind can be so manipulated that a vote for this clown or that one can be considered a betrayal of decades of friendship.
As I pointed out to both sets of my own friends, “you’re watching the shell and not the pea.” We are so distracted by politics, so manipulated by media, that we have failed for over a generation now to notice that our pockets have been picked right under our noses. The richest one percent now owns more of the country’s wealth than any time in the last 50 years, and this transfer of wealth has happened, unimpeded, right through the changing of the guard from the party of Bozo to the party of Krusty and back again.
One percent of 320 million is a tiny fraction, but keep in mind that the tiny Lilliputians were able to completely immobilize Gulliver while he slept.
The real world has real consequences. Friendships lost or damaged because of pixel inspired illusions about what is important, result in real pain and heartache. But in this environment of ever impending doom and daily doses of the historic and the unprecedented, there is a limit to just how much we can feel bad about.
Therefore I hereby deny this doom permanent residence in my consciousness and I urge you to do the same. To the angry and the fragile still licking wounds that won’t heal because you keep licking those wounds, to those taking on cartoon-ish roles in this staged production, I respond with the irony and pathos of another cartoon character. As Daffy Duck once said, “It is to laugh.”