“You’ve been played. We all have”. These are the words in a scene in the TV series, Homeland, that depicts two characters — Saul, who is one of the aides to the American President Keane, and Sam Paley, a senator who has been a constant infuriating thorn on the side of the American president.
In this scene, Saul presents Senator Paley with irrefutable evidence outlining a Russian conspiracy. The evidence involves pictures of people’s faces and the role they have been manipulated to play by the Russian political operatives. With every descriptive picture he sees, the pompous Senator Paley becomes increasingly deflated. What completely shocks him is his picture with the description, UI. He turns and asks Saul what the letters mean, and Saul calmly tells him, Useful Idiot. It is at this moment that Senator Paley confronts the realisation that he is the titular Useful Idiot, who has all along been manipulated and used by the Russian political operatives to impeach the American President.
Useful Idiot is a term used in political discourse to describe a person who is a susceptible propagandist for a cause or purpose whose goals they are not entirely aware of; and are used cynically by the leaders of the cause. Useful Idiots unwittingly support a cause which they naively believe to be a force for good.
The narrative on who should or should not succeed President Uhuru Kenyatta in 2022 has gone up several decibels. Politicians and political operatives are upstaging each other in public for a, ranging from harambees to funerals, and commissioning of development projects, in their bid to persuade the masses on who should be the immanent or precluded presidential flag bearer in 2022.
Political pundits have theorised that the plausibility of the positions expressed, is contingent on the bearer of the statement. This is why the sentiments recently expressed by the latest entrant into this narrative, Jubilee vice chairman David Murathe, and perceived to be at the heart of President Kenyatta’s inner circle, has raised the tempo across various political cabals, because it is widely speculated that his position accurately reflects that of the President.
Murathe said Deputy President William Ruto should retire from active politics in 2022. His position was reinforced by the party’s secretary general, Raphael Tuju, who said in a televised interview that it is only the National Delegates Conference that has powers to decide the party’s presidential flag bearer. This essentially renders the unwritten MoU of having Ruto as the automatic presidential flag bearer, impotent.
Rejoinders to these two statements have transcended to social media, where keyboard activists have boldly made known their support or opposition on the ongoing debate. Sadly, however, the finality and conviction with which we make our opinions public is quite characteristic of the ad hominem fallacy that has pervaded our national discourses at each turn.
The ad hominem argument is where we attack someone’s character rather than counter their argument with facts and logic. This is quite pervasive on Twitter and in the comments section of online stories. The ad hominem argument is a tool our politicians and political operatives have become so adept at using because it causes us to inadvertently fight their proxy wars in the name of political support. Subsequently, we unknowingly become Useful Innocents. Useful Innocents are misguided and confused sympathizers whose ignorance more frequently begets confidence, than does knowledge.
This was demonstrated in January last year, when college students in New York were asked by Campus Reform – an American news watchdog focused on the higher education system — to react to quotes from President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address. The students gave heartfelt, passionate and well-considered responses that universally rejected President Trump’s ideas and expressed how they would lead to war and the subjugation of women. But there was only one problem: It was one week before Trump gave his first SOTU address, and all the quotes were from President Barack Obama’s 2016 SOTU speech.
Complete ignorance by Useful Idiots and Useful Innocents does nothing to stop us from forming opinions and being dead certain about them. We have preferred orthodoxy rather than facts. We have believed in having the ‘right’ opinion rather than having a viewpoint based on thought and research.
Additionally, we have become so comfortable in our groupthink, which makes us even more confident of our opinions, especially when they align with those of our in-group preferences. This has made us the ideal susceptible victims of political manipulation. And it is just the state that our politicians and political operatives would like us to remain.
Begs the question, are those endorsing or invalidating Ruto’s presidential ambitions Useful Idiots or Inner Circle confidants? And since we do not know if they are being played, why do we, the Useful Innocents, make our political leadership choices based on their endorsements? Are we incapable of making those choices without being coerced, cajoled or threatened through fear? Have we become so inured to our divisive politics so much so that we experience an analysis paralysis when we encounter political candidates that are outside of our ingroup preferences?
I submit that politicians and political operatives have successfully conditioned us to believe some sort of grand conspiracy exists with every election cycle. In the process, we have ceded our power of choice over to them thus becoming infantilised.
We have regarded politics as another sport, where we pick our favourite team and defend it — not out of a sense of principle, but out of a misguided sense of loyalty. What we have chosen to care about is winning at all costs and neglected to care about what happens after the election, so long as our opponents are kept out of power. Ironically, we then incessantly complain about unmet expectations until the next election period where we relapse into the same conditioning.
Finally, my unsolicited advice is that our political bickering is far from over, and it will not be until we demand better from our politicians and political operatives. And the first step in demanding better of them, is to demand better of ourselves by refusing to be Useful Innocents.
Belief can be manipulated. Only knowledge is dangerous - Frank Herbert