Bread and Circus

By AG Moore    June 1

 Circo en Gijón, Asturias, España       by RobertoSieiras

Maybe P.T. Barnum said it and maybe he didn’t, but Sarah Palin and Donald Trump are doing their best to prove the message: there is a sucker born every minute.

Maybe she’s running and maybe she’s not, but whatever she does, Palin’s bus tour won’t hurt sales of her next ghost-written book or the ratings of her Fox commentaries. And the ‘maybe’s’ about Trump’s presidential aspirations have evaporated (did they ever exist?), but his ratings haven’t —   his fall Apprentice entry is sure to see a surge in viewership.

Sometimes celebrity, no matter how tawdry, is irresistible in its facile, fool’s gold glitter.  But there is nothing attractive about the picture of these two media hawks, meeting in the glare of camera flash, mugging smugly in a publicity blitzkrieg.  This isn’t Paris Hilton or one of the Kardashian sisters —  this is serious.  This is the national politic.

All right – none of the declared Republican candidates is riveting.  Gingrich is mildly entertaining, in  a train wreck kind of way.  And Paul is an admirable alternative to the cant that passes for political dialogue.  But no one expects either to win, so attention shifts to the circus side-show, the Palin/Trump Three Card Monte game.  And they soak up the energy; they soak up precious media time – at least until someone posts  a picture of a Congressman in his underwear.

Are we that simple-minded?  Is our attention span so short?  Is our interest bought so cheaply?  Maybe and maybe not.  I am inclined to think that at least part of the blame for the shallowness of political coverage rests with those doing the covering :  the news establishment.  While the blogosphere may be guilty of misinformation and gossip, its existence suggests a frustration with traditional news outlets.  We are being fed pap on network news, on cable TV, in print tabloids.  So we take the wheel on the information highway and, without the physical resources of CNN or MSNBC,  we navigate the internet and attempt to direct attention away from bread and circus.

That’s what Roman emperors doled out to the masses in the waning days of the empire, free bread and Colosseum displays.  The gestures were meant to appease and distract from imperial dysfunction.  While there was a rumor mill in ancient Rome, there was no internet.  Did the Roman rumor mill protest the sham of bread and circus? Whether it did or not, Rome fell.  Let’s hope the millions of voices on the internet, cacophonous though they be, can help the U.S. to avoid the same fate.  Because a discussion is necessary, a real debate, about the state of our nation.  Lacking that, we go into the next election cycle sated with pomp and bereft of circumstance.    And we know, looking to our antecedents in Rome, where that will lead us.

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