Political dysfunction is the most destructive component of failed governance in America’s version of democracy.
America is slowly coming to the climax of its painfully long presidential election process. As usual, there is much talk about choices and little talk about the process for deciding which choices to make. With the present election cycle culminating in a choice between two candidates with a lot of negative baggage, it is even more essential that voters take the time before voting to substantively connect each candidate’s policy pronouncements to desired outcomes.
LET BREXIT BE A LESSON TO US
We have just been treated to the spectacle of the voters in the United Kingdom making a choice and then seemingly regretting that choice as soon as the consequences of the choice became obvious. This can only happen when choices are made in a substantive vacuum created by misinformation, irresponsible rhetoric and, in this case, xenophobia.
As a bit of background for those of you wondering what the European Union (EU) is and why it is important to America and should have been very important to the Brits, let me fill you in on a few numbers: 8.5 million battle dead in World War I and over 20 million battle dead in World War II, plus untold millions of civilian deaths in Europe alone. The EU has ended this carnage and the centuries of European carnage that preceded it.
The United States, relatively new to European carnage, entered late into World War I and World War II. Even so, US participation in these wars came at great cost to the nation.
So the EU does matter to both Europe and the United States if for no other reason than its collective will to peacefully address continental conflict and seek common solutions to complex social and political problems. And this doesn’t even get to the economic ties that underpin European prosperity.
Yet for some reason, more Brits than not have let their “anger” trump good sense. Perhaps those who voted to leave the EU were so enchanted by the deluded dance with destiny of America’s Republican Party that they needed to try it out for themselves. While protest voting can be a useful weapon in democracy’s flawed arsenal, it is best left to simple concepts with limited consequences. Those Brits who really didn’t like the EU could have protested effectively by boycotting German pretzels instead of cutting their kids off from easy access to German jobs and German education.
And if you are angry when government meets the needs of others in your community with different priorities than yours, you are a huge part of the problem.
Regardless of how the UK’s independence from the EU ultimately turns out, it is likely that Britain will be the big loser in this one. It should be a really bad sign when protest voters wake up the next morning and want a do-over. (In this context, it is worth noting that many American Republicans seem to want a similar do-over from their presidential primary follies.)
Up Next: America
So it is now America’s turn to vote for something complex and important. In the US, as in the UK, there is a palpable disconnect between “anger” at political dysfunction and the public discourse required to seek solutions to complex problems. To prevent protest at perceived governmental failures from overwhelming good sense here in the upcoming presidential election, it is critical to ensure that the sources of voter “anger” are defined in a way that connects voter expressions of anger to potential solutions to the problems underlying the anger.
Many in the American electorate, particularly on the far right, seem to blame their individual ills and the declining fortunes of their communities on unspecified immigrants and government interference in their lives. It doesn’t seem to matter that the vast majority of immigrants contribute to our communities and that a functioning government can be a significant part of the solution, particularly when backed by community support.
It shouldn’t be necessary to point out, but 35 years of right-wing denigration of government and efforts to undermine the capacity to govern have taken a huge toll on the institutions that have served America well. An often compromised and publicly fractious political class has only exacerbated the perception of dysfunction. Yet despite this, government employees go to work every day to do what most people want them to do: try their best to use limited resources to meet public needs.
If you are angry about government failures, you should applaud when government works for you—when highways get repaired, the forest fires get controlled, relief workers show up with food and clothing, first responders respond and you successfully get your driver’s license renewed. And if you are angry when government meets the needs of others in your community with different priorities than yours, you are a huge part of the problem. It just might be that your streets will get plowed so others can get to the grocery store with their food stamps.
The real anger should be directed at political dysfunction. This is the most destructive component of failed governance in America’s version of democracy. Political dysfunction will not change if we change the government. It will only change if we change the politicians who let their personal interests block any chance of encouraging the collective conscience necessary to design and implement solutions that address anger and restore institutional confidence.
As each voter makes a choice in the upcoming election, it can only be hoped that clear thinking about the type of government that will address the complex issues confronting the nation will prevail. Better governance will not result from restricting authority and under-funding critical functions.
Let it be noted for the record that I am angry too—about the absurd proliferation of firearms, about hungry children here and abroad, about the failure to put labor to work repairing crumbling infrastructure, about the lack of universal access to health care and a lot more. But I know beyond a doubt that the real challenge is to get government working constructively to address these issues and the issues that make others angry, as well.
To meet this challenge, each of us has to think a little about the absurdity of America’s public discourse as this election nears. Think about this: You can’t be for gun control and against strong regulatory frameworks that meet public needs. And you can’t be against a government with the authority to restrict access to firearms and for a government with the authority to restrict women’s access to abortions.
I guess you can, but then government will not work to meet any needs. And anger will win.
*[A version of this article was also featured on Larry Beck’s blog, Hard Left Turn.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.
Photo Credit: Darron Birgenheier