Junk politics

Alex Himelfarb considers the revolution in crime policy that is about to pass the House.

Our greater openness to these “tough on criminals” policies and the reluctance of the opposition to take them on may reflect a more profound debasing of our politics, what the American critic Benjamin DeMott  has called “Junk Politics”.  In his articles and books, DeMott is not calling for more civility, politer politics; he doesn’t mind a good fight, it seems.   His concern with contemporary politics is bigger than that; it resides in its refusal to lead citizens to higher ground, to challenge us, to inspire us to find our better selves.  Instead, he says, it  panders to our worst sentiments.  personalises everything, derides experts and evidence, tells us that we are great as we are, that we have every right to feel morally superior.  It divides the world up into good and bad, black and white.  Nuance kills.  This world, to paraphrase sociologist Orrin Klapp, is destructively divided up into heroes – “hard-working, law-abiding tax payers” ; villains – criminals, terrorists and would-be terrorists; and fools – all the elites and so-called experts who are soft on crime and soft on terror.  This view gives not much space to idea of redemption or, for that matter, to compassion and brooks no debate on what the evidence might tell us or about the costs of punishment.

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