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20 for 20, Part 5: You are not your stump speech

You’ve come a long way, baby. But we’re not done yet. Today we’re discussing your favorite topic — you. You’re in the spotlight. But you can’t use Instagram filters or FUPA-slimming camera angles for this close-up. Can you allow yourself to feel exposed? Good. Doors are locked. Blinds are shut. Drapes pulled tight. It’s just you and me. Let’s begin.

17. Political people are not your friends. If you think 2 percent of your political acquaintances will be there for you when things get ugly, you’re deluding yourself by 100 percent to the upside.

Ask Jeff Smith how many people came to visit him in federal prison when he was locked up for campaign finance violations.

I know, I know. You think you’re special. You’re the exception to this rule, aren’t you? You’re not.

John Combest

Expect very little from your political acquaintances. The relationships are almost always symbiotic and/or transactional.

18. Actionable item: Once you accept that political people are not your friends, take meaningful action to not be a political person. Refuse to revert to the mean.

Hey Republicans: Why haven’t you reached out to David Barklage in the months since he was indicted for tax evasion? “Because I’m a selfish right-wing pig and he might no longer be of use to me,” is a better answer than whatever your defensive mind is rationalizing right now. You managed to find his e-mail and cell number when you needed advice, a job referral, or when your piddly state rep campaign needed a couple end-of-quarter fundraising favors. But you haven’t taken five minutes to offer him something, anything, in the five most arduous months of his life, which included the death of his mother. Will you allow yourself to lift your head up, take a brief and uncomfortable moment to think about your words, and reach out to him today? Or will you sit there with your hunched back and craned neck and mindlessly scroll your social accounts after you read this? Don’t answer. I already know.

Dear Democrats: Do you know where former state Rep. Courtney Curtis (D-Ferguson) is serving time? No, because he’s out of sight and out of mind. “But he violated the public truuusssst!” you moan in a nasally National Public Radio voice. You can manufacture crocodile tears for confessed triple-murderers on death row, but you can’t demonstrate genuine compassion and empathy for a man who carried your flag for years in Ferguson. He just switched prisons. Here’s his new address. You could write him today, but you won’t. You’ll be too busy compulsively checking your phone to see who’s liked your latest snarky hot take on masks or the Facebook picture of your “fur babies.” Won’t you?

If you’ve never been publicly hammered (attacked, not drunk), open this link in a new tab and read it when you’re done here: “Faughn: What I learned when I got knocked off my horse.

Would you — yes, you — like to be judged by your worst moments and poorest decisions? I’m looking doubly hard at you, Christian conservatives.

19. Politics, and political journalism, are dream jobs for those who choose to be mentally unwell. Do you “thrive in a fast-paced environment” and love working “under pressure?” These are often coping euphemisms for, “I am addicted to chaos” and, “I don’t believe I deserve peace.”

If there’s a void in your heart that must be filled by others’ praise, step right up and run for the General Assembly. Don’t worry that you’ll become complacent once you get elected — that’s just the beginning. To steal and contort a promo from the late 20th-century philosopher Paul Levesque — you’re working in Jefferson City during legislative session. Your wife is at home, what’s she doing? Don’t know. Your husband is at home, what’s he doing? Don’t know. You get home from Jeff City on Thursday night, congrats — the work is just starting. Now you’ve got to be super-husband, super-wife, super-mom, super-dad.

Journalists, how does it feel to report on the actions of elected officials, staffers, lobbyists, and business people whom you’re conditioned to believe are not nearly as smart as you? They don’t even have a journalism degree, for Pulitzer’s sake! But they make bank. At least, the don’t-have-to-worry-about-rent-or-gas-or-beer kind of bank. Must be nice. Meanwhile, you’re always on deadline. Finish it up. Good enough. Hit send. God forbid you get a name or statistic wrong, or some prick in Chesterfield with a hobby blog will call you out by name in the morning.

20. Actionable item: If you hope to be mentally well one day, minimize the role of politics in your identity today. Disclosure: I am batshit crazy. Certified. But this entire “20 for 20” is about you, not me, so I’ll keep holding the mirror up to you.

For starters, you probably care too much about being offended or offending others. If you haven’t read the FAQ for readers and journalists, here’s abridged #2: “If you’re an adult who feels emotionally triggered by the wording of Missouri political news headlines, I’d suggest seeking help from a mental health professional. Concurrently, I’d also suggest investing time identifying exactly why a headline signaling a potentially differing view on a public policy topic moves you down the emotional scale.”

Secondly, you’re likely obsessing over insignificant distractions. To quote native Missourian Dana Loesch, in her latest book Grace Cancelled: You don’t have to attend every fight you’re invited to (p.141).

Liberals: Some flapjack wino whose candidate you beat last election is calling you a “Karen” on Twitter and desperately trying to make a hashtag about it happen. Your heart rate accelerates every time you see a Twitter notification pop up on your phone. (You choose to receive notifications because you’re addicted to fight-or-flight stress hormones.) You’re losing sleep at night. Is your reputation in your district or your region so fragile that a Twitter troll will end your career? No, it’s not. You don’t have to attend every fight you’re invited to.

Conservatives: Some neckbeard soyboy with pronouns in his Twitter profile is offended by something you wrote. That’s right — a grown man is claiming to be injured not by your physical actions, not by your fists or your feet or your firearms — but by your words. Even better is when he’s offended on behalf of someone else. Maybe he even calls you a racist. That word meant something five years ago, pre-Trump Derangement Syndrome. Today, like the Fed money printer going Brrrrrr, there’s so much of that currency flying around everywhere that it lost its value. After all, everything is racist today — heat is racist and roads are racist and having to avoid deer on the drive home exemplifies white privilege. Hell, NPR even convicted Dave Chappelle of white privilege. Should you or Chappelle respond? Say it with me: You don’t have to attend every fight you’re invited to.

Here’s the tricky thing: Success in politics is, by definition, based on external validation. Candidates need votes. Consultants and lobbyists need clients. Journalists need readers. You will never achieve a state of imperturbability — in practical application, being blissfully unaffected by others’ judgment of you — if you internalize the political crowd’s opinion.

I recommend “the position of f- you” over “imperturbability”, but I’m notoriously based.

As we conclude, I’m going to challenge your identity. This is the deepest cut. Ready?

You are not your stump speech. You know what I mean. That tapestry of anecdotes and humblebrags and pseudo-adversity tales you’ve intricately weaved over the years. You deliver it with feigned aw-shucks spontaneity at freshman legislator bus tours and Day 1 “quick introductions” and newsroom meetings and sometimes on the literal campaign stump.

Contrary to most self-help blather and inspiration porn, you are not “the sum of all your experiences” stored in your brain. Those memories of your past are faulty and filled with self-soothing lies you’ve told yourself for decades.

Here’s what’s true: You are not your elected office. You are not your legislative committee chairmanship, or your chief of staff status, or your new title at the lobbying shop. And you are not your botched bills, or the bumbling TV interview you wish you could do over, or that time you got ratioed on Twitter.

You are not your journalism portfolio. You are not Missouri Press Association awards or your “experienced multimedia journalist” résumé puffery. No more than you are your five-figure salary or your student loan debt or your typos or your denied Twitter blue-check application. 

No, you are not your stump speech. You are pure consciousness. Now, never the past. Your most valuable asset is your ability to make good decisions. You already made one, as you chose to read this long, this deep. You were gifted nine presents in #1-#18. Which ones will you choose to unwrap and explore? Of those, which will you adopt to make your own and master and share with the world?

This was about you. From the song linked in the Part 1 introduction all the way to this paragraph. From October 2001 to October 2021. And it’s been my pleasure. Every day for 20 years. See you tomorrow morning.