I still have no concrete plan for Election Day, so I assure you, there’s no intention here of swaying your vote. But the ridiculous embarrassment known as the US 2016 Election has caused I-and many others-to perhaps discover what is really going on in our government and why a vast majority of us on either side disapprove of it. Therefore, my goal this four-year cycle has shifted from the loathing task of picking who might not be a despicable President to the more motivating and productive end of finding and fixing the entities that got us into this shameful mess to begin with.
I understand that the US relatively offers its inhabitants (and in some ways the world) so much more than most other nations, but relative to our potential-and even to some of our neighbors-our government is pathetically inefficient, stagnant, and irrational. It spends 3-4 times more paying off debt interest than on education or research and development! It is so irresponsible and broken that it routinely has to borrow money from itself to “pay” its debts, just like accruing debt on a credit card to pay off debt on another credit card! It doesn’t and can’t create a plan to address skyrocketing healthcare costs because its constituents in both parties are far too concerned with keeping them and their parties in power to have the courage to state and support the difficult changes that must be made. It stifles innovation with an inanely lengthy, expensive, and divisive primary election process that diverts money and representation from those who need it and makes it impossible for candidates unenslaved to themselves and/or one of two parties to be successful. And it routinely mocks and rejects the direct voice of its people by implementing its nonarchy-the absolute power of the (typically) nine Supreme Court Justices-to nullify so many laws and propositions affirmed simply and appropriately by a democratic majority vote, just by muttering “unconstitutional” at issues the Constitution never even remotely addresses or was intended to address. All the while billions of dollars are either never collected in taxes or burned in the government waste machine, and millions of people don’t get the necessary aid they could so easily be provided. I could go on and on about the problems, but the point is not to complain; it’s to demonstrate that just because we’re enjoying Uncle Sam’s candy bar doesn’t mean we should be satisfied paying $100 for it with interest. Just because we can vote in a few days doesn’t mean our “democracy” isn’t virtually dead.
But I would never leave us there. Voicing problems without solutions isn’t terribly helpful. But with so many political forces and precedents set against the people they should be but aren’t representing, what can you and I possibly do to start making this better? How can we unlock the resources and potential our politicians so effectively desire to destroy? Here are 3 simple things I’m finding to be both promising and productive that anyone can do-regardless of political position-to bring our democracy back to life.
1. I’m focusing my energy on the political system, not the candidates
Clinton and Trump are clearly not our choices for President because we’re so madly in love with them. In fact, I can’t remember an election where so many people from both parties have been so upset with their own candidate. Clump is much more the product of our country’s two-party love affair than of our desire. Why do we tolerate two historically haphazard and often contradictory collections of beliefs as the only viable choices we ever have? Why are we OK with millions of people who value both the lives of the unborn and of refugees or who are both financially responsible and generous never having a candidate who can embrace both values? Why don’t we prioritize a diversity of candidates in the general election over only those who can waste the most money and time manipulating-not helping-the people they aspire to represent? You will never fix the candidates until you fix the system. And you can.
First, go to the library and read about our government problems. You will find much bipartisan agreement-perhaps not always on solutions-but often at least on the problems. I’ve read several helpful books from both sides of the aisle and have learned much from both perspectives. For example, “The Debt Bomb” by Senator Tom Coburn opens with an easy-to-read, facts-based, very nonpartisan, insider critique that makes it easy for supporters of Bernie to Donald to know where the real roadblocks lie and what they can get excited to do about it.
Second, be vocal about system flaws everywhere you can, not to complain but to help people of all walks know what issues we need to and can prioritize together. For example, term limits and campaign finance are hardly common or sexy issues in presidential campaigns. But they may well be the most important, as winning typically requires spending half an elected term attempting reelection and wheeling and dealing hundreds of millions of dollars from a few rich, special interest folks. Not to mention that half of that cost is completely and inevitably wasted on the candidates that don’t win! Simply change every elected office to, say, one-time-only six-year terms and cap campaign spending to a dollar and time limit, and you regain the immeasurable time, resources, and good will lost during prolonged and/or reelection campaigns to aid people in ways everyone can agree on. Or eliminate separate primaries (and ideally parties altogether) and use a short set of general preliminary debates and polls to select four “unlabelled” presidential candidates. More people/ideas will be more accurately represented by the diversity, and voting will become more informed by knowledge than by a letter, color, or animal. Other similar solutions are just as simple, effective, and unifying. However, they get buried by our unhelpful desire to identify an enemy (the other party), by career politicians maintaining the profitable status quo instead of fixing problems, and by our diversion from and silence regarding the real issues that keep us in that status quo. Prioritize fixing the means to fix the end, fixing the system to fix the candidates (Click to tweet).
2. I’m investing in people over policy
Let’s just be honest, there’s an extremely high mathematical chance our vote won’t make a bit of difference. Yes, I know, we can’t just all ignore the polls because of that, but it’s a rather depressing truth nonetheless. As the timeless sage Homer Simpson states, “I live in a swing state, my vote’s worth more than a million Californians”! We’re taught to consider the right to vote the preeminent way we in this “democracy” can effect change, that what we do on Election Day will make our break our country. Truly, the right to vote is a privilege, and elections have consequences, but what you do every other day of the four-year cycle is far more consequential. That’s because we know not so deep down that-at least in this country-the politicians in office and the policies that result haven’t impacted our lives nearly as much as the people in them every day. Even if recently your marriage was legalized or you received new government aid, I’m willing to bet the influence of your local community and its everyday people has made a bigger and more meaningful impact on your life. Addressing policy is necessary and important, but in many ways, you have far more power than a President or Congressperson ever will. You can offer customized community, insight, hugs, resources, networking, and listening ears to so many people the government won’t ever access, and all free of bureaucracy, manipulation, and waste! No lobbyists, hanging chads, or filibustering to worry about in giving your neighbor a hand. And 320 million pairs of hands are exponentially more effective than as many votes for a handful of politicians. Whoever wins this year, make it your goal to outdo them in fixing our nation. Lucky for you, our choices make doing so pretty easy (Click to tweet).
3. I will not vote under compulsion or in ignorance
Even though focusing on improving the political system and on our own role outperforming the political system are ultimately more influential than voting itself, it’s obviously still significant what we do on Election Day. But whether that significance is good or bad depends on why we do what we do. A democracy is dead if some voices are given more value or weight than others. And the most common way that happens in our country is for us to vote with others’ voices. When people guilt us into voting (virtually always the way they would) for someone we’re not convinced is worthy or when we vote for people we know nothing more about than a letter, color, or animal, we are voting with another person or party’s voice, not our own. We give them undue power, and lose our own and our democracy’s with it. Just like driving a car, voting is more a responsibility than a right-not just who to vote for but whether or not we should. If the only thing I know about my car is that it’s a blue Mustang, it’s unsafe for me to influence others with it on the road. If the only thing I know about a candidate is that he’s a blue donkey, it’s unsafe to influence others with him using my vote. And if the lesser of two evils is still evil, it’s not guilty to stay innocent and not vote at all. Or to vote for someone with no chance of winning because your voice leads to that vote. I have every reason to believe there will be significant blood on my hands if I vote for either presidential candidate this year, and if I can’t clearly discern how to do less harm with my vote, then I’ll set aside the vote to do more good with my life.