Snake Oil


I am a political junkie, and as an ex-pat American and typical immigrant, I follow the politics of the old country obsessively from my adopted home of Canada.

On the day of the New Hampshire primary, I was driving to meet a friend for coffee and started to search  the car radio for an American station that that I could pick up in Victoria, so I  could get news of how the primary was going. It was a really silly thing to do. Since polls in New Hampshire don’t close until 5 pm Victoria time, and it wasn’t yet 10 am, the search for news on an American radio station didn’t make a lot of sense to anybody but a real political junkie.  I was hoping to hear some sign, any sign, that Donald Trump’s support was collapsing and that Bernie Sanders’ support was holding steady. Maybe there were exit polls or entrances polls that would provide an inkling of trends, or news of the weather conditions affecting voter turnout, or a pundit with some inside information. I wanted just a small hit of the drug.

I finally found an AM station from Seattle. It came in during a commercial break. The first commercial, although there may have been more before it, was touting hypnosis offered by some wellness centre as a solution to most of life’s problems, including a tendency to be unhappy. Hypnosis could cure addictions, alcoholism, and other destructive behaviours. There was a number to call. I imagined unhappy people and desperate addicts reaching for the phone.

The hypnosis ad was followed by a pitch for a non-prescription medicine for swollen prostate that promised to make swollen prostate sufferers urinate less frequently and with greater ease. It also promised to greatly improve their love lives, which were presumably compromised by frequent and difficult urination. I could see that.

After those commercials, the station went to weather and traffic reports, so I started to search for another station. I got a lot of static. Then I got NPR, which comes in like a local station in Victoria, but it was playing classical music. Finally, after I came close to missing a stop sign, I came back to the original station. “And that’s the story on traffic. Stay tuned for updates.” Immediately there was another commercial, this one by a Dr. Lyle Love, who offered private weight loss treatments on which you would start to lose up to 1-2 pounds per day, depending on your size, age, the condition of your body, and the follow through. The follow through part sounded very much like a loophole in case of legal action.

Just as the station was going to news, I arrived at the coffee shop, so I gave up.

That evening I watched the New Hampshire Primary returns on TV with my son, also a fan of Bernie Sanders but not very sanguine about the chances of a self-described democratic socialist of winning a general election. Both of us waver between thinking a Donald trump candidacy would destroy the Republican party– not a bad thing– and fearing that Trump could actually win the presidency, which would be a catastrophe.

Bernie Sanders won over Hillary Clinton by more than 20 points, but Donald Trump came in first on the Republican side, apparently expanding his base beyond uneducated, angry white males.

But how is it possible that a reality TV celebrity who mocks everybody, has no plausible policy prescriptions, and tells lies that would make Adolf Hitler blush can be taking in even uneducated, angry white males much less expanding his base beyond them?

Then I thought about the radio ads I had heard that morning on American radio. Maybe a segment of the American electorate has been so deluged with snake oil pitches that for it, like for postmodernists, objective truth no longer matters. Unethical and dishonest advertising has paved the way for Donald Trump.

At least we already live in Canada.

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