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THOMPSON: Politicians sell dreams

March 02, 2020 - 12:00 PM

OPINION


I sold dreams for most of my public relations and advertising career, so I know one when I see it. Politicians everywhere sell dreams…but nowhere more boldly than in America.

Donald Trump sold a dream four years ago…most didn’t know what they were buying or what it would cost. Trump’s simply promised American greatness…again.

But If you think those who bought Trump’s dream in 2016 are disappointed…think again. Admitting a mistake isn’t easy…you hide buyer’s remorse…you even accept ridicule rather than admit your folly.

Trump is still selling. Of course, he’s not the only one. Bernie Sanders is selling a different dream…but a dream nonetheless.

Both Trump and Sanders suffer from similar delusions. Things are a mess, they both say…“Don’t believe his dream…believe mine. Only I can make your dream come true.” Trump sold voters an us-versus-them dream in 2016…they aren’t like us and you’re not doing as well as they are because of them…they’re elitists and now it’s your turn.

It’s a good story…populism has been around for more than a century in America. It works extremely well when you don’t let facts get in the way of your story. Trump followers are so invested…they cannot afford not to buy his dream again. They allow Trump any transgression…they have little choice. They are living his dream…as nightmarish as it has become for most Americans.

Bernie Sanders took a page from Trump’s playbook. Yes, he’s a better man…a better human being. But morality doesn’t matter too much when it comes to selling dreams. You see, Bernie’s dream is that every ill befalling working Americans…can be laid at the feet of the wealthy…individuals and corporations.

Sanders sells a variation of Trump’s dream…another us-versus-them argument. The rich have profited at your expense…it’s time to get even. Enter, Mike Bloomberg, a successful businessman…unlike Donald Trump…and he, too, sells a dream. 

Bloomberg is philanthropic…putting his money where his mouth is to fight gun violence and climate change and promote education. He’s not a Democrat…but not a typical Republican either.

In Sanders’ dream, Bloomberg is the devil. All that is wrong with your life…is attributable to Bloomberg and people like him. Those “one-percenters” are out of touch, according to Sanders, they’re oppressors of everyone not like them…minorities, women, gays, blue-collar workers…everyone.

Each has compelling arguments to support their dreams…even in the absence of overwhelming evidence. Other candidates - Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, Pete Buttigieg and Joe Biden - sell dreams, too. But some dreams don’t capture people’s imagination.

For example, some see Elizabeth Warren’s dream as Bernie Sanders Lite. Amy Klobuchar’s defensiveness and exasperation in the face of Pete Buttigieg’s accusations make some  question her diplomatic skills. And while Buttigieg might be the smartest of the group - almost unflappable - people of colour are suspect. Then there’s Joe Biden…a respected statesman…a journeyman politician. Will America buy his dream?

The selling of dreams is complicated - once again - by Russian interference. It’s Vladimir Putin’s dream to undermine America…by whatever means necessary. He’s ordered his minions to launch attacks on Sanders…on Trump…on Republicans and Democrats. He hates America and everything it stands for…so he’s doing his best to turn one American against another. And it has worked marvellously.

Trump’s insecurity means America is even less prepared today to stop Russian interference than four years ago. Never has America been in more need of someone who can unite its citizens.

I’m unsure which dream will come true in November…who knows? If there is good news on the horizon…and sadly its ultimate effect won’t arrive before the coming Election Day…it’s a growing movement by Americans at local levels to come together and solve problems where they live.

More people are getting involved locally…more women…more minorities…more young people. That’s a good thing. Politics change faster locally than nationally. But will any sense of a united America locally rise to the national level before Trump renders the Constitution little more than old parchment?

So many questions. I hope enough Americans want - not some less-inclusive past glory - but the democracy envisioned by those who penned the U.S. Constitution. It’s been a long time coming and it’s the only dream worth buying, even with the formidable challenge of making it reality.

— Don Thompson, an American awaiting Canadian citizenship, lives in Vernon and in Florida. In a career that spans more than 40 years, Don has been a working journalist, a speechwriter and the CEO of an advertising and public relations firm. A passionate and compassionate man, he loves the written word as much as fine dinners with great wines. His essays are a blend of news reporting and opinion.


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