What the hell the U.S. presidency’s for

I’m reading some of Robert Caro’s excellent biography of President Lyndon Johnson.

By those accounts LBJ was unscrupulously power hungry, Machiavellian, corrupt and possibly even a wicked man even by Washington standards. Yet the USA survived when it came to navigating through the volatile socio-political flux of the 1960’s. Maybe even came out a little bit on top of the game.

This makes me think of the complexity of what makes a good choice of President. Maybe we can call this “election epistemology”?

We want an election choice that will make better off the people we care about — ourselves, our kids, our compatriots, etc. We want to anchor this choice to an anchor of facts.

Problem is, we don’t have facts or what facts we do have are subjective. Stats and other measurements are subjective. Talented politicians can lie effectively to others (or “massage the truth”) because they have mastered the art of self-deception. Even language is a game (e.g. Can you say that “government builds roads” when the government hires a construction company? Can you say that a “company builds cars” when they receive government subsidies and the manual labor is done by individual persons?)

That hurts my brain and it makes me feel like I’m in a dark room where curiosity brings dim comfort: just a light I can touch but not see.

If politicians can even lie to themselves about what they believe true, then in some ways all we can know about the candidates and the choice context is what we *make* ourselves know.

What the heck does that mean? For one thing we should assume that our choice is rooted in an unconscious map of reality formed over generations of humanity and countless permutations of biological evolution. We might talk about our choice in terms of contemporary issues (Climate change, Daesh/ISIS) but our brains are making the calculation with a primordial abacus.

(For example, despite the rhetoric about wanting a leader who is “trustworthy” or “honest”, we all practice deceit at some level or another and we value a leader who can effectively mislead others — likewise with the prowess of cajoling and intimidation.

And speaking of the natural context of a U.S. Presidential election, what is the purpose of the democratically selected president and of the “nation” as a construct? As LBJ himself put it, ““Well, what the hell’s the presidency for?”

Robert Caro, “The Years of Lyndon Johnson”: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Years_of_Lyndon_Johnson

“Politicians are good liars”: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2582730/Politicians-good-liars-convince-telling-truth-research-suggests.html

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