In this time of catastrophic political dysfunction and corruption, it is easy to say to ourselves, “I didn’t vote for him! This isn’t my fault!” Easy to say, but untrue.
In a democracy, which we aspire to be in the United States, everyone is responsible, all the time, for maintaining the democratic dynamic. Every citizen is responsible to the best of their abilities to participate in the daily political debates of issues that confront the American people. That means it isn’t rude or impolite to talk about politics with the people you encounter everyday. It’s mandatory.
Yet, do you?
Or are you afraid to?
We, the voters, the people, the citizens, are a collective figurehead of the American democratic experiment.
Do you instead stay mum about the pressing issues that will shape the future of our country and our world? Do you instead focus yourself and your friends and family and acquaintances on personal concerns, work challenges, your finances, your favorite t.v. shows, movies, sports teams, etc.?
You aren’t alone if you said yes. We’ve all done it, and today we are seeing just how powerless that has made us.
We’re told that our sacred duty as American citizens is to vote. Every four years that cry is amplified thousandfold by candidates for president, and we citizens are praised for our judgement, our proud democratic history, our brave and brilliant founding fathers and the colonists who fought for our country’s independence. We’re told that this is the single greatest act of democratic principles that we will ever perform for our country.
And a day after the election, we are forgotten for another four years as the real power players go to work. We go back to our narrower concerns, getting braces for the kids, saving for college, paying off college loans, trying to get a decent job or a promotion, trying to preserve our marriages, trying to get out of debt. No one in the media or in Washington, D.C., or in your state or local governments are saying anything about you – or to you – anymore. All that “sacred responsibility” nonsense, all that faux respect for your acute political discernment has vanished like cigarette smoke in a wind tunnel. You’ve served your purpose as “American citizens” the way the Queen and the Royal Family serve their purpose in England, except with drastically fewer perks. We, the voters, the people, the citizens, are a collective figurehead of the American democratic experiment. Like the quoting of Lincoln, MLK and, gag, Reagan, once the elections are done we are ushered back into the closet until the next election cycle.
Our democratic experiment is an epic failure because we continue to let ourselves be conned and quieted. This is our fault. Everyone’s.
The democratic dynamic should be of constant friction, daily debate, perpetual exploration of ways to better assure true equality and justice to all citizens. Because there are always going to be people who want to assure more equality for themselves and less justice for others, we must engage every single day to keep that from happening. If we abdicate that responsibility, blindly trust our political representatives, if we cease concerning ourselves with the use and abuse of power by our elected representatives, we abdicate our right to a democratic society.
Before every election, there is invariably the raising of the figurative sword over our heads as people self-righteously tell us, “If you don’t vote, you can’t complain.” It is too often a pompous, self-serving declaration, and you want to punch the person who says it, especially after elections like our most recent one.
I urge you to complain whether your voted or not. Complaining may be all you can do in many cases. But here’s the rub: Complain publicly. If you just complain to your spouse, your lover, your one “political” friend, you’re not complaining enough. Spread your discontent. Advertise it whenever you can.
Because there are always going to be people who want to assure more equality for themselves and less justice for others, we must engage every single day to keep that from happening.
Of course, be logical. If you don’t understand an issue, ask questions about it. Google it. Ask your friends and family if they understand it. Don’t just bitch without trying to learn how to solve the problem. Investigate as you complain.
It’s your duty to the democratic process.
However, if you simply echo complaints that you hear on the news or elsewhere, that doesn’t help. That’s merely playing a very destructive game of “Telephone,” that broadcasts platitudes and propaganda as a substitute for thoughtful debate. If the Greek aphorism “Know thyself” is phenomenologically crucial, similarly “know thy complaints” is politically paramount for every citizen in a democracy. Complain all you want about issues, but don’t talk out of your ass when you do. Own your gaps in knowledge as well as your fervent opinions. It’s good to be passionate, but it’s suicidal to be willfully ignorant.
In a country where a football player kneels in protest against police brutality for two minutes and prompts millions of fans to outrage, the media to condemn him as unpatriotic, and billionaires to blackball him from working, it is transparent that legitimate political complaints about the authenticity of justice and equality will be met with overwhelming force. The forces that would be “more equal” hold the megaphone of corporate power that monopolizes our news media and our politicians’ bank accounts. Should we ever find ourselves facing blowback of such epic proportions, it is incumbent upon us that our complaints are thoughtful and realistic. In fact, no matter what the situation, we can only serve as good citizens of a democracy if that is the case.
Like economists that serve the government, politicians likewise pretend that government is just too complicated for us to understand it. I know far too many people who use that very argument to defend their political disengagement. I cannot catalyze them into action by shaming them for this. I can only tell you, if you do this as well, that the will of the people is only heard and obeyed if it is loud enough. If you acknowledge your limitations and seek out feedback regarding your opinions, at least among decent human beings, you won’t be attacked or shamed. Democracy requires this of all of us.
Our discontent, accurately voiced, should vibrate the air that the “more equal” crowd breathes, suck the oxygen from their lungs, rising into a singular, vast, hurricane-steady howl of rage against their wanton cruelty, selfishness and greed.
The government, on the other hand, requires far less, and most elected representatives currently wish we would just get out of the way and shut up. In addition, those citizens that line up and drink the Kool-Aid of “my country, right or wrong” blah blah blah will always oppose thoughtful complaints of government policy. They are succumbing to the ease of parroting sound bites and thoughtless platitudes about what the American democracy is about. To them, blind patriotism is the ultimate weapon. If you have a disagreement with policy, you might as well just “leave America.”
These people are one of two things: 1) idiots or 2) amoral monsters.
Let me reassure you, as commonplace as we are led to believe these types are, they are far rarer than we are led to believe. You must remind yourself of this every day. Otherwise, you will be tempted to disengage.
Our government is currently almost completely under the sway of those very wealthy, amoral monsters who demand “more equality” for themselves and “less justice” for the rest of us. Slashing taxes on the extremely wealthy and corporations continues to be the economic mantra of those in power. Keeping wages low and the political power of workers anemic has been the passive aggressive standard of both parties for decades. Militarizing domestic policing and exponentially increasing surveillance on private citizens demonstrates a growing distrust of the people by the government. Politicians refusing to hold town hall meetings with angry voters and collaborating with corporate news media to spin their doublespeak as meaningful and important demonstrates that the democratic dynamic has been muffled and gagged.
If we want a democracy in the United States, we have remove the gags we put on ourselves in our daily interactions. Only by talking about our disenchantment, our anger, our discomfort, our rage, our horror, our utter sorrow at the actions of our current government will we raise the voice of the people above its current whisper. Every voice contributes to the volume, to the pitch, to the gently growing roar of the democratic crowd. Raise your voice and we will all join together to be heard. And we must be heard. Our discontent, accurately voiced, should vibrate the air that the “more equal” crowd breathes, suck the oxygen from their lungs, rising into a singular, vast, hurricane-steady howl of rage against their wanton cruelty, selfishness and greed.
Speak up. Speak up. Speak up.
I beg you. Speak up.