This is about all I’m going to say about our current election. I don’t endorse candidates or political parties. As a parish priest, my job is to pray for this country, its president, the congress, supreme court, its armed forces, all civil authority and for all its people. I do this no matter who wins the election. My prayers are not based on election outcomes, but upon my faith in the Trinitarian God’s love for creation including all people on the planet.
It is no wonder that Americans suffer from election fatigue. From the moment the presidential election is decided, the political parties and machines begin gearing up for the next election. Running campaigns has become a full time process, not just once every four years but every day of every year. The political parties and PACs raise millions of dollars to spend on electing candidates, but how much does anyone invest in actually doing governance? How much time and energy do the political parties, the PACs, the political pundits put into helping these candidates learn to govern in a democracy in a diverse society? Precious little, which is part of the terrible money imbalance in American politics. Political office is treated as “for sale to the highest bidder” rather than as the means to serve the nation and to lead the free world.
As soon as the election is decided, political parties and political fundraisers begin focusing all their time and energy on the next election and getting their party’s candidates elected. If they invested in good candidates who could actually govern and who could help build American democracy we all would be better off. They however are really interested in investing in winning and holding on to power, even if they have no wise or virtuous candidates to put forth. How much better for us all if they focused on how to make the American democratic process work and on how to help our leaders govern our country in the 21st Century with its diversity, all its many issues and problems and with the world as it is today (not as we wished it were).
The political machines pick candidates who can win elections, not necessarily those who are capable of governing. The political machines spend tens of millions of dollars on getting people elected, but nothing on training them in governace – how to work in, with and for a democracy. Forget having a candidate be a statesman, as they will have no time for that – their purpose is only to win elections. Any wonder that the Putins of the world have an easier time being statesmen, being world leaders and getting things done? The Putins of the world can set goals and accomplish them while American presidential candidates are forced to short-shortsightedly focus on winning elections. Putins can conquer enemies, American presidential candidates have to conquer the electorate which turns half of the very people they are supposed to serve into enemies of sorts and the rest into the vanquished. This is why negative elections seem to work so well, in my opinion. Americans have forgotten that both political parties and all elected candidates are supposed to represent and serve all the people not just the ones that agree with them.
Presidents are said to have about 100 days of their first administration to accomplish anything. We spend 1461 days to elect a person who apparently is only going to be able to accomplish anything about 100 days in four years. The rest of the time (935 of their four years) they will spend campaigning for themselves or others in their political party. The elected politicians have to cater to those who financed their election and to the talk show hosts and their legions who endlessly criticize the politician. Apparently, the politicians weren’t elected to lead, but only to cater to money and to continually appease the squealing media wheels. The “next” election looms over everything elected do not because of the electorate but because of the big money and big voices.
The media superstars, not elected by anybody, dominate the airwaves and the Internet and so it appears also the thoughts of the many who listen to them. They fire up their base so that the president and congress have to spend most of their time paying attention to the political machines and to the media commentators rather than to issues before them. The media moguls do not want the politicians to see anything except through their lens. Don’t pay attention to the issues but only to those who loudly yell about the issues. But these commentators do not pay attention to or care about what strengthens democracy in a diverse culture. Rather they really advocate against democracy and in favor of a one party system, with their own way as being the only acceptable way to see the world. The word dictator comes from a Latin word meaning “to say often, prescribe, to speak frequently.” All talk show hosts are dictators. Why do we listen to them? We should favor democracy not dictatorship. We are addicted to them and the next thing they might say, which is what also comes to haunt and fixate the politicians.
We invest so heavily in the elections but do not invest in governance. We need to change the system so that it works to strengthen democracy not tear it down like the media people and political chieftains do today. Their goal is purely to get their people elected. But that isn’t necessarily what is good for the country or the world.
There is in our country the wonderful freedom of speech, which unfortunately the Supreme Court says includes setting no limits on how much money people can spend or raise on elections. But we the people should learn “freedom of listening.” We can turn off all of the political talk show people. We can stop listening to or watching political ads whether from the airwaves or on the Internet. We need to find something better to do with our minds, like learning more about democracy and how it works, why it is so important to our lives and what we need to be as voters to make democracy work. We should shake off our own laziness of listening to dictators and encourage politicians to be statesmen and leaders. If we don’t like their ideas we vote them out of office. Those candidates in favor of democracy should also support the idea that they can be removed from office rather than spending all their time and energy making sure they stay in office.
I have never made it my position to comment on “who” to vote for in an election. However, I do value American democracy and consider it a strength of our nation. I do think our current election trends and the power ceded to political parties and to media talk show hosts is weakening democracy. We need to work on changing the system, and then we would get better candidates.
In a democracy, the majority decide which direction the country will go. Political parties can hold to an ideology, but face the reality that their beloved convictions can’t win a majority of voters. They can change their position to try to create an alliance of voters to win the election, or they can hold on to their ideology but lose elections. What shouldn’t be accepted is that they try to buy elections or to have their unpopular ideas win through deceit or negative campaigning. If they can’t convince us that their ideas are good for the country, even if painful, they need to try harder, improve their message, or find a combination of ideas that convince us to vote for them. In my opinion as it is they instead just spend all their time and energy trying to get their candidates elected with no regard for how that effects the country. For them the end justifies the means, no matter what price democracy has to pay. Their goal is to stay in power not necessarily to strengthen the American democratic process. We voters can changes this, but we have to change our habits to do it.
I would recommend listening to the TED Talk: Democracy on Trial for further thinking about democracy and its importance and why we need to strengthen it through the election process rather than weaken it by allowing ourselves to become part of the partisan polarity problem. I think a total reform of the party driven primaries would be helpful. Let all candidates from all parties be put into a common pool in the primaries, and the voters decide who are the top two candidates – no matter what party they are from. The general election would have the top two vote winners in the primary face off. That way all candidates in all elections would have to offer a message that appeals to all or the most voters. This I think would help end the parties become more polarized through the primaries and then offering no middle ground for voters. I’m sure this would create other problems, perhaps some unseen at the moment, but it would help change the tenor of the election process now at work in America.