The Post-Literate Election
In 2003, Harper’s published this essay by Benjamin DeMott, which describes the ‘junk politics’ that have eroded our sense of historical context and moral imperative, the foundations of sincere political debate.
Junk politics personalizes mainly through tropes of heart—feel-your-pain chatter and touchy-feel personal testimony. The implicit message is that leadership’s chief concern should be with setting an upbeat tone and demonstrating a sensitive response to hardship, rather than with homing in on injustice, spelling out practical correctives, arguing for the correctives in public forums, working for their ultimate enactment.
Great causes—they still exist—nourish themselves on firm, sharp awareness of the substance of injustice. The country’s very foundations, indeed, lie in clearly defined understanding of injustices. Blunting such understanding is a major product of junk politics. And tropes of the heart are among the projectors’ key tools.