My recent essay, “What the Democrats Stand For”, sparked some conversation between folks who disagree about the current state of our Union. There was some serious exchange of ideas - many supported with evidence, which I thought was thrilling, even if a few trolls threw in an offensive comment or meme from time to time. Even without the help of the trolls, though, the conversation often devolved into bickering and mutual insults.
I was encouraged to hear from non-Democrats who still believe there are places where Left and Right can meet in the middle. I sincerely hope that’s true. The two parties have polarized to an alarming degree; it looks very much like they have nothing in common anymore beyond the fact that they all call themselves American. In a government based on compromise between equals, that’s a real problem. It’s one that may have been exacerbated by foreign influence applied in various ways by spies and through the Internet, but at its core, it’s an American problem.
Some folks have lost all hope that the current system can be fixed. They say that both parties are corrupt beyond redemption, that politicians only run for office to enrich themselves by selling out to big corporations, that NO ONE is there for the American people.
A fellow who described himself as a “former intel analyst” told me that the corruption was “worse than I can imagine”. As a natural cynic, I take issue with that. I have a very good imagination, which in times like these is often an uncomfortable thing. Nevertheless, to hear him say “neither side cares about us … there’s no fixing it … both parties are failures, and the only thing politicians care about is their wallet” and that the only thing to do is “revolt … just wipe the slate clean and start over” chilled me to my bones.
Why? Because I’d thought the same thing myself at times. Frustration at our willingness to be led around by unscrupulous people who capitalize on our prejudices and fears has led me down that dark, depressing path, a path that leads to only one place: another American Civil War.
A horrifying idea, to say the least, but one that seems more possible with every insult thrown by one side against the other, with every news story, outright lie, or Presidential tweet created to fan the flames of people’s anger against the “opposition”.
When both sides call each other liars, when the free press and intelligence community are vilified by the President, and that same free press creates a daily circus to court their audience, based on endless speculation about very little evidence other than anonymous leaks and statements by sensation-mongers, all media becomes suspect and the average undecided voter loses all trust in the information available to her or him.
Without reliable information, a conscientious voter is unable to make an informed decision, which robs him or her of the power our democracy guarantees its citizens. Add to that accusations by both sides of voter suppression tactics, possible ballot tampering at the polling place, gerrymandering, foreign interference with possible American conspirators, and so on ad infinitum, the job of voting one’s best interest becomes nearly impossible. People lose confidence in their way of government because it no longer serves their needs. Their Representatives no longer represent them. They feel powerless to affect what they see as injustice.
When people used to seeing themselves as working parts of a democracy feel powerless, they get angry.
Without a peaceful, reliable electoral process, opposing factions feel compelled to take up arms against one another, and the folks in the middle, whether they like it or not, get swept up into the ensuing violence. Or, those in the middle become so frustrated that they take up arms against both factions.
In either case, America loses. What emerges after our American sons and daughters and their American sons and daughters kill each other has little chance of being recognizable as the country we love. And that’s if our foreign adversaries stay out of it, which they almost certainly won’t. The golden opportunity to feast on our wealth will be too tempting to ignore.
As for corruption in politics, I think few people would say that it doesn’t exist. It seems pretty evident that corporate interests control our government through lobbying and the huge campaign contributions made possible by the Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” ruling. How to deal with it is a question that also seems unanswerable by anything less than revolution.
At the risk of sounding like Karl Marx, the struggle is in many ways a class struggle, but I believe it’s more than that. It’s a struggle for survival. In today’s world, as natural resources become more and more scarce and competition for them grows, the short-sightedness and greed of the very rich threaten the existence, not only of our democracy, but of the human race itself.
Whether you’re a Democrat, a Republican, or one of the many Americans in between, this is all pretty scary stuff, especially if there are children you love. How can we leave them a world worth living in?
There are potential solutions, of course. Overturning Citizens United would be a good start, but only a start. Other ways to reform campaign finance must be considered as well, so that elected officials don’t come into office deeply in debt to some billionaire or corporate entity.
Rethinking the entire concept of politics as a career might also solve many issues. The founding fathers’ idea that politics should be civil service is getting lost, because many elected leaders are concerned with the success of their own careers, which they too often measure in dollars, rather than in service to their constituents. If their time in politics is limited, perhaps they will be more motivated to serve the folks who elected them.
So, campaign finance reform and term limits might bring us back from the brink, but how can we make them happen? Those who have the power in the current status quo will not quietly relinquish it. That being the case, the average voter can hardly be faulted for losing hope that America’s problems can ever be “fixed”.
What, then, can be done to save America?
We, the people, do have power - if we are united. We - all Americans together, but especially those in the middle - must take a stand. The silent majority must be silent no longer. Peaceful protest is a powerful tool, as the recent efforts to resist the current administration have shown.
We must put aside our differences and lead our leaders back to where we want them to be. We must watch them closely and hold them accountable for their official acts. We must teach them how to serve us, rather than follow them blindly into the abyss.
A united American populace is our enemies’ - both foreign and domestic - worst nightmare. That’s why they’ve tried so hard to divide us.
We must lead our leaders to rediscover civil discourse - respectful conversation between people who disagree. Civil discourse is necessary to have any kind of peaceful interaction that might lead to a mutually agreeable solution.
This does not mean that people can’t be honest. On the contrary, honesty is also essential. We must “tell it like it is” if we want our concerns to be addressed. But honesty without respect for the honest concerns of those who disagree with us is counter-productive. If we don’t respect the views of our dissenters, how can we expect them to respect ours? No one ever changed an opponent’s mind with an insult. “Telling it like it is” does not equal verbal abuse.
All of us, united in our love for our country and our hope for the future, must learn to stand up, speak out, and perhaps most important, listen to each other.
We, the people of the United States of America, in order to form a more perfect Union, must re-learn how to negotiate, collaborate, and compromise.