During this year’s political campaign season, we’re going to be inundated with seemingly endless advertising about this or that politician’s respectability. We will once again be subjected to a peculiar form of narcissistic speech and behavior that has long been socially acceptable.
Some of the politicians will overtly brag about how incredibly wonderful they are. The only humility they will display is “humble-bragging”. Other politicians will appeal to the voting demographics who yearn for stability, and the appearance of a grandparent’s caring and wisdom. Whether they voice these aspects themselves or they have hired a public relations firm to speak for them, the politicians will engage in a righteous race.
The Presidential campaign, and to a slightly lesser degree the campaigns for legislative office, are the most respectable form of public relations theater in our nation. It satisfies the desire for dramatic competition similar to our fascination with football, but with a sordid, dangerous twist. We are presented a low-class ritualistic brag-fest that is festooned with gold-plated faux-pithy slogans and plenty of flag-waving. The campaigns appeal to mostly middle-class ambition, anxiety, and secret fears. All of this prancing and posturing costs billions of dollars and seems to go on forever. It’s easy to understand why so many of us are jaded about politics.
The campaign season subjects us to the lower forms of the evil of respectability. Respectability manifests itself insidiously as the top of a hierarchy that places some people above others. To be conventionally respectable is to have built a wall of assurance, predictability, and piety that is accompanied by power, success, displays of virtue, and money. Society regards respectability as virtuous. None of the ingredients are inherently evil. It is when they are combined with suspiciousness, defensiveness, scapegoating, and fear that respectability becomes especially dark.
There is a certain degree of self-centeredness and conscious posturing that is present in the concept of respectability. It also requires a fair amount of ruthlessness and callousness in order to keep up appearances. To be politically respectable requires a vulgar standard of acceptability. It seems to come quite easily to some. To run for office requires a lack of imaginative thinking, a passing nod for middle-class “values”, and a dash of sordid, threatening rhetoric.
In today’s world, respectability is deceptive, painful, and unconsciously self-revealing. All one has to do is to read between the lines. Respectability is rather easy to cultivate. When it is paired with narcissistic behavior, the public good is probably in danger.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes writer, poet, journalist, Civil War veteran, Ambrose Bierce. “Well, dearie, men have to do some awfully mean things to keep up their respectability. But you can’t blame them for that, can you?”