The value of our hardened political opinions is both overwhelming, and worthless. These manufactured “principles”, if we call them that still, in defiance of the definition of the word itself, serve little more practical use than building corresponding masses that will never become the ven diagram of how we compromise, how we advance, how we unite. Opinions are talking points, which we love, but fall far short of building a true Democratic nation, which we all should.
Sure, they win elections. That’s undeniably evident in the last dozen years of American politics at least, and across the globe, essentially. The never ending quest for a new direction sacrifices the integrity of any continued path to progress, and leaves us more divided with each survey of the political conscious.
Movements begin in the unlikeliest of ways, gather momentum, defy odds, and transform into our new temporary reality, until the next one. Then movements become reality, with supporting and opposing voices going hoarse, with little impact to the actual merits at play.
With that said, I sincerely hope we all continue fighting for the issues that mean most to us, as individuals. The alternative is a nation of malcontents, accepting of whatever those in power choose to shove down our collective throats. Which ultimately, regrettably, is what we’ve become. However, I’m hopeful we can find a path forward where our differences breed conversation, and not yelling. I hope our varying ideals can coexist within a plane of recognition, understanding, and togetherness.
Here’s how I believe we do that. We toss our political party affiliations into the water, just like we did the tea. We shove our platforms of argument to the side, abandon our unwavering allegiance to infotainment, and engage with the actual language of government. We focus on the individual issues at play, one at a time, and shun the prevailing sentiment of the day in favor of what we, individually, want.
The Republican party has used us. The Democratic party has used us. We are used. We are tagalongs to a dueling race of elitists who pander to our emotions, usurp our power, and lay waste to us in the actions we’re too lazy to watch. They know our attention spans rival that of the tsy tsy fly, and they exploit it. They know we’re too busy playing on our phones to watch the Senate floor. They know we’re too preoccupied with kids soccer games and dinner plans to read the bills being proposed, and voted on. They hide in the great wide open, knowing we are mostly oblivious to the minutia piled so high it makes our eyes glaze over.
That’s how they fuck us. That’s how they own us. That’s how they divide us, and it’s our fault.
The issues have been filtered and re-filtered, amended and restructured, to the point where it is difficult at minimum, and borderline impossible, for our collective population to understand. We read the headline that Congress vetoed legislation to increase spending on veterans health benefits, not knowing that a rider to that bill would have authorized millions in tax dollars to an entirely unrelated program, one that creates enough debate to kill it altogether. Rather than understand that, we scream that our veterans are being shorted, when we should be screaming that the rider had no place in the bill to begin with.
We overhear through social media that so and so supports idea X, which contradicts with our idea Y, and immediately take to the platform to scream into the ether, without bothering to investigate, read, or understand what is true and what is propaganda. More importantly, we abandon the discussion point of the bill itself, and attack each other for supporting this or that which has little to do with the language of law proposed. We’re jumping into the chasm of making our point, while forgetting that we need to listen first, and speak second.
We are a reactive populous. I suppose that’s understandable. Our tools of communication breed that behavior, propagate it with customized newsfeeds and recommended follows that only serve to further our distance from one another. We cling to these tools, because they are easy, interesting, satisfying, or whatever other excuse we make for ourselves.
At the end of the day, fair practice in governance was never guaranteed. Open access was neither. We live in a skewed perception that with the advancement of technology comes more insight, this is but a misnomer forwarded by the interests who advance these technologies. These groups open the robe of democracy only far enough to reveal what they wish to be seen, knowing most of us will never pursue the story beyond what is offered. We’ll be too busy calling each other names to understand what we’re ultimately arguing over.
Does this all sound too big brother for you? Probably. But ask yourself, independently, when is the last time your social media feed showed you a well reasoned voice of opposition? When have you been exposed to a non-partisan discussion that banishes the words Democrat and Republican? When have you danced with the devil, and learned a new step? When have you read the language of an actual bill on the floor of Congress, rather than 500 words from a media source adding equal (or more) parts opinion to the conversation?
It’s possible to pursue this another way, but the workload currently required is comprehensive in our current setup, to say the least. Facebook does not promote congress.gov – where you can read the exact language of any bill proposed in either the House of Representatives, or the Senate. It will, however, shovel your newsfeed full of for profit websites puking their opinions. And we gobble them up like hungry dogs in the street. Have you ever checked congress.gov? Were you aware you could read the full context of any and every bill proposed? Knowing this, would you ever consider doing so?
If the answer is no, and honestly it is for most of us, then lay down and accept whatever the minuscule representative population of government does on your dime, while you watch cat videos. If, however, you want to understand the mechanisms that move our political landscape, close the window on CNN, Fox News or whatever site you prefer, and read what is about to become law. Then call your elected representatives, whether you voted in their favor or not, and tell him or her what you want. Stop wasting your time on someone else’s perspective, form your own, and flood the system accordingly.
If more of us took this approach, congressional staffs would burgeon with growth to handle the voice of the masses. Our lawmakers would feel the full force of their (engaged) constituents, rather than simply taking one more meeting with a lobbyist representing XYZ foundation.
Take the same approach to the closest hill of our democracy, your neighborhood. Learn your city council members names, your school board members names. Do you have your local, state and national representatives in your contacts? No? How many news websites do you follow? How many of them can connect you to the people who vote in your name? Face it, you spend more time absorbing someone else’s opinion of what matters to you than engaging with the people you pay to advance your interests. Shame on you. But don’t worry, it’s a 30 second google search and a few minutes of keystrokes to correct that.
We have allowed our democracy to be monetized, sensationalized, and transported miles away from our effective involvement. This is a collective failure, and I propose a moratorium on guilt and shame in the name of making it right.
Do more than vote. The concept that your vote is your voice is misleading, for it implies your responsibility ends there. It does not. Once in office, these people take on the real work of speaking for you. Make your voice heard when they are in power. If you don’t, those in the traditional position of power will.
There is a quote, attributed to everyone from Harry S. Truman to Aaron Sorkin in an episode of The West Wing – “Decisions are made by those who show up”
Live that. Show up. Take the baton. Vow to spend less time venting online and more time speaking truth to power, so to speak. This is how things get done. Be part of the getting done.
Of course there is a returning to earth sentiment in all of this, you won’t always win. Accept that. In a representative democracy it is (ideally) the will of the people that moves the needle. Sometimes, the will is against you. We may fall into a comfortable sphere of common voices that portend our opinion is the only one that matters, but we must remember that other voices matter. Should we disagree, screaming at the results is less powerful than talking with your opposition. Make friends “across the aisle”, understand the dissent, when it isn’t yours. Only from there can we imagine a conversation that brings us together.
Bridges are built with tough materials – concrete and rocks, hardened with heat and time – they are not finished easily. None of our ideals are advanced without dissent, but those concepts that truly make us better are born and bred from investment in the process, honest debate over the facts of the matter, and an eye towards the bigger prize. Do you wish to live in a better democracy? Then embrace the ugly parts, the boring parts, the hard parts, often these are the most important parts. It isn’t all iconic policies and posters, it’s a mess of working together through the muck, long conversations that increase understanding, slowly. We become a nation of our own accord by understanding who we truly are, and letting our voices soar above the bullshit. Until we do, those in power will continue to operate as they have for centuries, and we’ll continue to do little more than divide ourselves into separate groups of the same people.
If you wish to change it, there is a map to that place. You need to enter the points along the way, and follow the road accordingly. Seek the destination, but love the journey. Know where you wish to go, but be prepared to learn along the way, and be grateful. You have a voice, whether you like it or not.