How pop culture co-opted politics

Many Americans are finally accepting what it’s been so depressingly hard to admit: Our model of representative government has collapsed. We know most individuals can’t have any influence on their elected representatives or federal policymaking. We know so many officials we send to Washington, or even the statehouse, are largely interchangeable, focused on playing the inside game to survive another day, not on advocating for their specific flesh-and-blood constituencies. Thanks to big corporations, big banks, big bureaucracies, and the big patronage class of elite functionaries they support, we’ve broadly lost faith that our particular interests can be advanced by the people we empower in the hopes that they’ll advance them. No wonder we’ve lost so much respect for members of Congress, whatever our partisan leanings. We rarely look at them and see ourselves.

Contrast that with professional sports, where end zone twerking draws fines from the league and cheers from the fans. Our entertainment stars are bigger and better than us, but they seem more “like us” — at least in a way our professional representatives have largely ceased to be. And with all of pop and sports stars’ wealth and attention, they can speak for us, too, in a way officials no longer do.

We tried holding out hope for outsider-y political leaders to reclaim the public square as a place of genuine representation. But the Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump insurgencies have quickly succumbed to deep disillusionment. Instead of taking back politics, Sanders caved to Hillary Clinton; instead of taking back America, Trump gave in to his worst and laziest instincts.