To the extent possible I’ve been actively not paying attention to political ads. I don’t have TV, so that helps, but watching sports at the bar I’m going to see a few. If I’m unlucky, the sound will be on. Ugh. I remarked to one person that I’d vote for whomever promised to go home and shut up for four years. Six months of campaigning should be enough. Two years? Please.
Despite not paying attention, I do know that this Presidential election is a hot mess. The two major-party candidates are near-caricatures of their respective parties, and for the usually reliable third-party Libertarian choice the candidate appears to have lost his mind. It may be that not voting is the sanest vote of all.
The Western democracies resemble nothing so much as medievel fiefdoms. A small ruling class rotates amongst the baronys while turf-building with money appropriated from the
peasantry citizenry. Government at nearly every level long ago morphed from ‘conducting the people’s business’ to ‘conducting the ruling classes business’. The only reason a populist like Donald Trump would be in a position to win the land’s highest office is if people understood they’d been essentially shut out of their own government’s management and were so frustrated they would do anything to change the status quo.
And people are frustrated. It’s a negative undercurrent in American culture. People see more and more money buying fewer and fewer results. Nothing works and nobody knows anything. The ruling class more openly commit transgressions that would land anyone else in an ocean of hot water. The leader of one of the major political parties, while running for President, openly mocked and denigrated the majority of Americans in a comment designed to win votes. The mentally ill are defining the culture. People are angry and frustrated and not entirely sure how we ended up here. This melancholy is doubly disturbing because that’s not how we see ourselves as a culture. But outside a truck commercial, when’s the last time you heard about American can-do spirit?
In a republic the citizens have the opportunity to elect the politicians. In theory this allows the stockholders to pick the management team. When the US had a mostly rural population, this worked pretty well. In smaller communities the results of political decisions are more immediately apparent and thus the decision-makers more accountable.
And that’s really the key to effective government, or any sort of management. Accountability keeps people honest. The flip side is that the boss has the responsibility to hold their people accountable. If those in charge don’t discharge their responsibilities, the system breaks down as those once held accountable operate more freely and can in time amass more power than their putative superiors. As this process develops, rule-of-law is replaced by rule-of-few. Or one.
The Founders anticipated this; thus their call for an educated populace. They reasoned that an educated person could evaluate the political options on offer and choose based on knowledge of history and within the framework of the Constitution. Their thinking was also that people would be engaged in the political process. At the time of it’s founding, the US was almost unique in its system of government. The Founders figured that people knew how rare was the chance to run their own country: surely people would be engaged.
An opposition press was also high on the Founder’s requirements for a workable republic. Even in late 18th century America, people were busy. Then as now, people had lives to lead. The press was seen as the primary tool for keeping the populace informed and the politicians honest (or at least less dishonest). From before the country’s founding and right through the 19th Century American journalism took to the role with what might be described as glee. Over time the press, often describing itself as the voice of the common man, found itself more ideologically aligned with particular political elements. The practical result was the gradual erosion of the sense of political responsibility from the common consciousness and the same effect on politician’s morals.
Our world now is one where most people don’t make the connection between politicians and quality of life. Cities in the wealthiest country in history are crumbling to the ground and there’s no mass outrage at politicians because there’s no sense of responsibility on the part of the voters. This is most evident in cities and states where single-party rule is the de facto government. In a stunning display of mass brainwashing, people are watching their lives worsen as they vote the same people to office, and voting without intention of holding those elected accountable is a meaningless exercise.
Of course, it’s much easier to hold people accountable when you know what they’re doing. The largest part of mass media now actively colludes with the ruling class to hide their foibles and legal shenanigans. Wikileaks exposed things about the Democratic Party that would have put nearly any other organization out of business and opened numerous criminal investigations. Instead, it was a brief flare quickly smothered until Oh look! A squirrel! About the only way to find out what’s going on in the US is independent media; still largely unregulated (although Congress has tried), and the foreign press.
If we’re unhappy with our situation, the first step is to realize that it is our situation. We got ourselves here. The argument that it was ‘those others’ that did it is irresponsible. It’s still our country. People say they’re busy: are they really? A letter, a phone call, an email to an elected official. Is it really such a large price to pay to conceivably change the political landscape? While as a society we may have collectively decided not to hold those in power accountable, we still retain the ability to do so.