As I have watched the political dialogue in this presidential election cycle, my mind has gone back to a story from my childhood by the great Ray Bradbury. The short story, called The Toynbee Convector, told of a time traveler who traveled 100 years into the future.
The time traveler came back to the present, saying “We made it! We did it! The future is ours. We rebuilt the cities, freshened the small towns, cleaned the lakes and rivers, washed the air, saved the dolphins, increased the whales, stopped the wars, tossed solar stations across space to light the world, colonized the moon, moved on to Mars, then Alpha Centauri. We cured cancer and stopped death…Oh, future’s bright and beauteous spires, arise!”
At the end of the story you learn that the time traveler had lied. He had concocted an elaborate hoax. He created pictures, video recordings, and drawings to show everyone a future that he had never seen. When asked why he had lied to everyone, the supposed time traveler says, “Life has always been lying to ourselves!…to gently lie and prove the lie true. To weave dreams and put brains and flesh and the truly real beneath the dreams. Everything, finally, is a promise. What seems a lie is a ramshackle need, wishing to be born. Here. Thus and so.”
Because everyone had believed him, the fake time traveler created in the minds of all people on earth the hopes and dreams that he had invented. The end of wars, the healing of the environment, and travel into space were all accomplished because people believed it would happen. They fulfilled his vision because he led them to believe it was possible.
Contrast this vision with our current political environment. Politicians seem to have taken their cues from the dystopic visions of our cinema. Their speeches reflect more Hunger Games than Reagan’s vision of a “shining city on a hill.” The Republican candidates are clearly spreading a gloomy picture of America where one should have a fear of immigrants, Muslims, and Obama. However, the Democratic candidates also present themselves as the only solution to a dystopic future America. The difference between the parties is more about what to fear rather than whether to fear.
Either these politicians really stay up at night fearing the imminent destruction of America or they are stoking fear to garner support. I am not sure which is worse, politicians so paranoid about America and its citizens or politicians willing to spread fear and bigotry of the “Other.” For conservatives, the “Other” is liberals, Muslims, or immigrants. For the liberals, it is the devoutly religious, the gun-toting conservatives, or the top 1%.
Where did hope get lost along the way? This despair is not created by politicians, but is exploited by them for gain. Can you think of a single popular movie that is set in the future where things are better than they are now? Do we have any visions of a future where we solve the big problems of today? It seems to me that our media is populated with dystopic futures that are filled with environmental degradation, extreme violence, and tyranny. And zombies. Politicians of both parties regularly receive fact-checker ratings of “totally false” and “pants on fire.” They tell lies in order to spread these anti-ideals of fear and despair. And their ratings go up.
Bradbury’s short story was called the “Toynbee Convector” after Arnold Toynbee, a British historian and expert in international affairs. He famously said “Apathy can be overcome by enthusiasm, and enthusiasm can only be aroused by two things: first, an ideal, which takes the imagination by storm, and second, a definite intelligible plan for carrying that ideal into practice.”
This is what I am looking for in a presidential candidate: a positive ideal for which to strive and an intelligent plan for making that ideal a real possibility. We live in great times. We live in the country with the strongest and most stable economy. Most of the major communicable diseases have been eradicated. We have the freedom to worship as we choose. We have safe and plentiful food. In Rexburg we enjoy clean air, clean water, and safety from war and crime. These can be hopeful times.
I am still waiting for someone with a hopeful vision, with an ideal that excites me, and a plan to implement those ideals. The fearful and despairing visions offered by so many of today’s politicians may increase Americans’ desires for “strong” leaders or a more intrusive, security-minded government, but I am looking for something different. I’m still looking to vote for a fake time-traveler with a hopeful lie and a future of promise. A politician who will “gently lie and prove the lie true.”
This article was originally published on Feb 2, 2016 in the Standard Journal (http://uvsj.com/opinion/columns/the-lies-i-want-to-hear/article_9aed9fbc-c933-11e5-8004-cf744d126ac4.html)