This is the first of a series of posts I will be writing about the election season we just endured and my thoughts about the political situation we find ourselves in. These posts are meant for everyone. People of all generations, all walks of life, all identities, and all political leaning will agree with some of what I write and disagree with other parts. I hope I communicate my thoughts well to everyone and that they serve to spark beneficial dialogue with and introspection within those that read them.
If there is an over-arching theme to these posts, it is perhaps best summarized in the words of Joseph de Maistre, a French political thinker, who once wrote, “Every nation gets the government it deserves.”
Election 2016: Accepting Responsibility
While some celebrate the election of Trump and the continued GOP control of Congress, many, such as myself, are disheartened by the results of the election. We fear the GOP agenda, empowered by their election gains, will pose a risk to our rights, our social status within society, our healthcare, our economic futures, and even our very lives. It has been said that we can be part of the solution, part of the problem, or part of the scenery and, politically speaking, too many U.S. citizens have chosen to be part of the scenery and in doing so have become part of the problem. I am one of them. Before I write anything about anyone else, any other citizen or any other political party, I must acknowledge my personal responsibility in contributing to situation I now fear will harm many people. My political inaction, my disengagement with politics and my political laziness contributed to our present circumstances. Before I continue to any analysis of the 2016 election or our present political circumstances, I need to start there.
Refusing to Vote
In the past I have failed to exercise a basic responsibility in a democratic country: voting to elect our national leaders. I vote in local elections and on specific local issues but before 2016 I had never voted in federal elections. I have had my reasons for choosing not to do this, but that means that I consented to the status quo which I view as terrible.
In 2016 I choose to vote in the national elections but I didn’t even do that well. I failed to register as a Democrat in time to vote in support of Bernie Sanders, the candidate I favored during the primary election season. This was the point at which my vote would have actually counted and had the most practical impact…and I did not get around to it. My first attempt to register with the Green Party was lost by the state of Massachusetts and because I did not double-check my registration I found out I was unable to vote in local elections when I attempted to. My second attempt to register with the Green Party was successful and I voted for Jill Stein in the general election. While this vote in a deeply Democratic Blue state was pointless beyond attempting to help the Green Party claim 5% of national votes, I at the very least showed up.
Voting But Disengaging from Politics
However, I fear that even if I had voted for one of the two-party candidates in a swing state, the most powerful single citizen vote in our present political situation, this is not enough. I do not think voting as the end of political engagement but more one aspect of it, or even the bare minimum in our country. Even if one views voting as pointless and refuses to do so, there are still many other forms of political engagement.
I fear many people, including myself, are politically active only during the election season and nominally engaged at that. We vote for the candidate most like us and perhaps convince others to vote, and then disengage from the political process for the next 3-4 years. If we win, we trust our candidates to follow through on their campaign promises and govern effectively, often ignoring clear situations where they do not. If we lose, we blame everything on the actions of the other political party, often ignoring clear situations where the other party has a valid point or our own party’s failings put them into power.
Political engagement is far more than voting I believe one should stay politically engaged. We should maintain public pressure on our leaders to follow through on promises, remain true to their values, compromise when necessary and generally keep them in check. However, this requires staying informed, learning about ways to exert political pressure effectively, and putting in effort to the political process. It also includes being able and willing to criticize the leaders we identify with, identifying, calling out, and working to correct valid problems with their leadership. We must do this even as they face unwarranted criticism from their political opponents. Personally, I have generally failed to stay politically engaged beyond voting.
Am I Part of the Solution, Part of the Problem, or Part of the Scenery?
Overall, when I ask how I have attempted to influence on our political system I draw a huge blank with few exceptions. I am forced to accept that I am not the Civil Rights activists but those who stayed at home during the marches. I realize I am not the ones who fought for women’s right to vote, but those that stayed in the background and wanted to see how things would play out. I realize I am not the Anti-War Activists of Vietnam, but the Silent Majority who was counted as for the war because of their silence. I have never communicated my desires or concerns to my representatives in local or federal government in any way shape or form, beyond perhaps signing a few petitions online that were safely ignored.
There May Be Many Reasons To Be Politically Disengaged But There Are No Excuses For Being Politically Disengaged
There are many demands on our lives. There are educations to finish, bills to pay, children to raise, careers and business ventures to pursue. There are relationships invest in and personal changes we want to make. All of these require some of our finite time, resources and effort. It is tempting to stay disengaged and simply hope that the status quo gets better or at least is maintained, despite all evidence to the contrary.
There are also many valid reasons to feel politically dis-empowered in what is left of the democratic process here in the U.S. Our votes seem inconsequential based on where we live. Corporations and special interests have hired an army of lawyers and lobbyists to bend our political leaders to their will, armed with financial resources none of us will ever see in our entire life. While the two-parties may be different on wedge-issues, there are many more cases in which their agenda and governance are indistinguishable and equally problematic.
However, the words of Pericles are just as true today as they were in his:“Just because you do not interest in politics, does not mean politics won’t take an interest in you.”
Politics shapes our shared social experiences from the mundane to the incredibly important. Politics determines how fast we are legally allowed to drive on roads and if minority groups are protected or oppressed by our laws. Politics determines where we will resettle and incorporate refugees or create more by invading a foreign country. When we disengage from politics we give up whatever say we have in the direction of our nation and our own futures as we are part of it.
While we may feel dis-empowered I have come to believe that everyone has as much political influence as they are willing to create and we are limited more by our lack of strategic effort than the actual structures we face. I have been too disengaged to shape the politics that have shaped our course as a nation. That course ultimately led us to Trump, and while I lament our arrival here, I cannot do anything until I accept personal responsibility for my inaction and act differently in the future.
I know I am guilty of this, and I invite my readers to consider how involved or disengaged you really are in our political process as I continue to write about this election and our present political situation as a nation..