Wordle, an online word game, offers insight into what drives Congressional leaders like Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy to betray this nation.
Wordle players get six tries to guess a five-letter word. Feedback helps. Enter PLACE, and if E comes at the end of the mystery word, the letter shows up on a green tile. If E appears elsewhere, a gold tile. Guess the word, and five green tiles flip over like cherries on a slot machine. This, I posit, stimulates the brain’s pleasure center.
Here we connect to social media. A “like” button provides positive feedback. In response, people post comments and visuals less what they believe and more about what they think will prompt likes and agreement.
This links to America’s broken political system. Facebook and Twitter (just purchased by Elon Musk) know that hurtful, hateful material generates the most likes and responses. Algorithms feed users more of the same to keep them online longer and increase advertising revenue. Craving conspiracy theories and addicted to lies, many Americans isolate themselves among true believers. They perceive different opinions as threats to God and country.
The sociologist Johnathan Haidt writes in the May 2022 Atlantic (“After Babel”): “Social media has both magnified and weaponized the frivolous.” Public discourse suffers from “. . . the continual chipping-away of trust.”
Most Congressional Republicans (I’m no fan of the progressive left, either) pander to the far-right. These voters hold the key to primary success and campaign financing. They also will influence who Congress elects to its top spots this fall should Republicans win House and Senate majorities. Acknowledging this dynamic, supposed leaders become followers. Most shied away from condemning the treachery of January 6 or backed off if they did.
Senate minority leader McConnell excoriated Donald Trump for January 6 but offered a spurious excuse for voting not guilty during Trump’s Senate trial. Let truth interfere with power? He told a friend, “I didn’t get to be leader by voting with five people in the conference.” He chose being a follower.
Last Thursday, the New York Times reported that on January 10, 2021, House minority leader McCarthy told Republican leaders that he planned to tell Trump, “I think this will pass, and it would be my recommendation you should resign.” McCarthy called the Times report “totally false and wrong.” Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns, authors of This Will Not Pass: Trump, Biden and the Battle for America’s Future, released a recording of McCarthy’s phone conversation. It revealed those exact words.
What’s in it for McConnell and McCarthy? McConnell wants to again control the Senate. As to McCarthy, Tom Friedman pointed out the obvious in Wednesday’s Times. As House speaker, McCarthy “. . . becomes second in line for the presidency, after the vice president.”
Friedman noted, “. . . when McCarthy’s lying and bad character were exposed, many in his party backed him up anyway.” Not all. House members on the farthest right, like Matt Gaetz (R-Fl.), have taken McCarthy to task for telling the truth about January 6. Fox News’ Tucker Carlson called McCarthy a puppet of the Democratic party.
Wordle is a game. American politics is for real. Far-right—and far-left—appeals to the brain’s pleasure centers create real pain for our democracy. While it lasts.
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