Congressional Kabuki and normalized deviance

Japanese Kabuki Theater originated in the 1600s and grew through the years into a highly stylized form of entertainment with garish costumes and scenarios of conflict accompanied by flute, drum, and strings while the consequence has been previously determined.

Normalized deviance is a term coined in the investigation of the 1986 NASA Challenger launch disaster when senior launch engineers failed to regard warnings by Thiokol booster engineers of the dangers involved with launch temperature.

Launch engineers noted that 27 launches had been conducted successfully in spite of evidence of “burn through” in the booster couplings. Deviation from safety standards became normal.

Audiences easily see the mystery, conflict, and outcomes of Congress as they reflect Kabuki Theater. Garish costumes are replaced by conservative dark grey suits with a US flag lapel button.

Congressional actors relish audience attention via outlandish claims, proving Goebbels dictum that lies told often enough become accepted truth.

That, in turn, constitutes knowledge that outcome has been previously decided while deviating from normal standards of ethical and moral comportment all the while thinking the audience is simply far too unsophisticated and uneducated to grasp the reality and failure of political masters.

Early Kabuki Theater had a “Flower Path,” a walkway from the stage into the audience. Today that nearness to our political actors is provided by media.

Other than our daily paper and local TV news, national media fail journalism’s chief duty to report hard news.

Rather, a continuing editorial that seemingly goes on forever.

Bystanders might wonder why the talking heads don’t get bored and report on something exciting: gardening, perhaps.

There used to be fun watching politicians. Scandals in DC, while not commonplace, reflected the light hearted high jinx of Congress.

In 1974 Wilbur Mills, a Congressman from Louisiana, had a few too many and jumped into Washington’s Tidal Pool with a stripper called “Fanny Fox, the Argentine Firecracker.”

Ohio’s Wayne Hayes hired Elizabeth Ray as a secretary who admitted she could not type.

In 1988 Presidential hopeful Gary Hart was playing house with Donna Rice until the fun was

interrupted by media (Bush Sr. won.) Sen. Bob Packwood (D. Oregon) would have been an early target of the “Me Too!” movement in 1995.

The indictment by the ethics committee was over 10,000 pages!

Presidents Roosevelt, Kennedy, Johnson, and now Trump are said to have philandered occasionally.

Today’s Tea Party would have loved Sen. William Proxmire (D. Wisconsin) who from time to time announced the “Golden Fleece Award” recognizing wasteful spending in Washington. (There are many winners; two stand out: $57,800 on a study of the physical measurements of 432 airline stewardesses, paying special attention to the “length of the buttocks” and how their knees were arranged when they were seated” and $121,000, on developing “some objective evidence concerning marijuana’s effect on sexual arousal.”) Today Normalized Deviance is reflected in Congress by the simple act of passing a budget/spending bill on time for the fiscal year.

Their failure is so expected that citizens now have no faith in such action. Congressional failure has become normal.

Yeah, it used to be fun. Now it’s just sad. One wonders why any sitting politician should be re-elected.

Paul Chapman, Harlingen