It’s time to turn down the political volume

American exceptionalism illustration on an American FlagRhine McLin used to say, “I’m an elected representative, not a politician,” even though her life revolved around politics from the day her Dad died and she ascended to his statehouse seat as if she was royalty.

Even though she didn’t live up to her claim, the idea was correct: once elected, you represent all the people in your jurisdiction, not just the ones in your party, not just the ones that look like you, not just the ones who gave you money so you could win that seat. Getting elected is supposed to be an honor. Most Americans seem to think voting is some sort of supreme power, but in fact, when you vote, you are awarding your power to someone else, and hoping like hell they take that power and use it for good to benefit us all.

A British lord famously wrote, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men…” and he sided with the confederacy with his preference for States’ rights over the larger, centralized Federal government’s power, which – based on historical precedent – he believed would eventually turn tyrannical.

The reality is, for many, politics is not central to their well being. Less than half the people eligible to vote in this country do, and those that do often vote against their own best interests. Civics isn’t one of the things we worry about in American education, and neither is “home economics” (a really bad way of describing basic life skills you’ll use every day for the rest of your life). So many Americans “graduate” from high school still not knowing how to balance a checkbook, how to calculate and understand interest rates, or how to budget for a household. They also don’t know how to make sure their voices are heard by those they give their power up to in elections. Because if they did, they’d never settle for the way they are treated when trying to speak at local public meetings or asking for public records.

Most never question the amount of taxes that come out of their paychecks, are told they owe on their annual tax forms, or why their health insurance costs so much. Most who get a “bill” from their local city for an ambulance ride prompted by a 911 call actually acquiesce to paying it even though it was already paid through their taxes. When they argue about “conservative values” or “democratic largess” they do it without really understanding the size and scope of these mischaracterizations of the two major “party” platforms. Somehow, the fact that more people are disenfranchised from picking candidates in Ohio in the partisan primaries than there are people aligned with the two major parties who control ballot access is overlooked. Independent voters be damned. So much for independent thought in the land that claims to celebrate “independence day.”

And just as our public education system has failed to teach us useful life skills, we’ve also failed to explain how this whole government thing is supposed to work. You know that’s true when you always hear “if you ran government like a business” it would somehow be better. That was the thinking that helped some folks to vote for a “businessman” to be president. The reality is government is not a business; despite being the largest purchaser of goods and services in this country, it’s really more of a framework for economic functionality. The idea is to be able to engage in trade, live in safety, have a quality of life and be able to pursue life, liberty, and happiness.

The only thing is, it’s broken. Badly. Mostly because we’ve allowed amateurs to gain power and that power has corrupted them, absolutely. You can tell because of the wealth gap. You can tell because of the health gap, You can tell because the minimum wage isn’t enough to live minimally. That as a percentage of income, poor people are being totally burdened with taxes while the wealthy consider it a game they pay to play.

Even the people who are supposed to be wise to politics – the ones who help choose our leaders – are as clueless as the masses can be.

I had the pleasure to see two of them who I consider friends (despite having diametrically different political positions than me) make arguments both for and against the soon to be gone president in this morning’s paper.

Ashley Webb is a fellow veteran, who graduated from West Point, served his country, has been elected to the Kettering Council, has run for County Commission and serves on the Republican Party Central Committee. He’s a businessman, a father, and was – at one time – aligned closely with the other writer, Rob Scott, who has also served on the Kettering Council, and was for a short period of time, the head of the local Republican party. Rob’s a lawyer, and started the local “Tea Party” movement when he was still in college. For the last 5 years, he’s been well rewarded for his part in getting the president elected: first as his Ohio campaign manager and then with an appointment to the regional SBA.

Webb has been betrayed by his party: “we have firmly believed from the beginning that Donald Trump is a selfish bully that does not share our values.” He wants to return to what he believes are the conservative values that his party used to profess.

Scott on the other hand, lists what he considers successes by Trump, up to and including this tone-deaf paragraph:

“Wall Street and retail investors have benefited from major market rallies. The COVID-19 outbreak and pandemic shutdown measures across the country made key indices take a big hit, but even through that, markets bounced back to pre-pandemic levels.”

When staggering death tolls of Americans are ignored while pointing out the success of the stock market through a global pandemic one has to wonder what “conservative compassion” means. Scott totally misses where Trump and almost all of the world’s political leaders got an “F” for managing the pandemic. The exception is New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern who was elected to run her country in 2017 at the astonishingly youthful age of 37. That made her the world’s youngest female head of government. Maybe experience is overrated? Maybe not.

The reality is, we’re approaching almost half-a-million dead, and the final tally economically won’t be known for years.

What is known, is that we’ve done a horrible job of protecting the poor, the weak, the minorities. And this is why the political rhetoric needs to be set aside and we need to have a come-to-Jesus minute about what kind of government we want, need, and expect. Not who is in charge, but what their key performance indicators should be – if we’re going to use that government as a business analogy.

The United States has been at war for almost 19 years in Iraq and Afghanistan. And while we’ve killed a lot of them, (estimates suggest between 480,000 and 507,000, including non-combatants) and spent trillions, our death toll is under 8,000 from our presence there. To put that in perspective, almost that many Americans die every two days right now, and we will reach 500,000 Americans dead in less than a year.

We’re still spending $721.5 billion to “defend Americans” with our military in 2020, while we couldn’t protect our capitol from Trump supporters who are as detached from reality as their President. We also can’t seem to protect Americans from hunger, with 1 in 5 living with food insecurity. We can’t protect them from homelessness. We can’t even make sure our child mortality rate is the lowest of industrialized countries, while we argue about abortion. Our own life expectancy sucks as well, due to lack of national health care and an abundance of guns.

So, while we’re all busy talking about Red State/Blue State, Capitalism/Socialism, maybe it’s time to stop, step back, and ask what these overpriced charlatans are really doing for us. Just think of the $830M that was spent on just the Georgia Senate run-off  and realize that’s money that could have been spent on feeding the hungry instead of TV ads and billboards. Or the $14B that was spent to elect the idiots in 2020 – you know: the election that was “stolen”? Really?

Let’s just take that $14B and divide it up between the 331M people and give them all $42.29 each. Or better yet, take the $721.5B we spend on defense and share it evenly, and give everyone $2179.75 each. These are examples of trying to make sense out of politics to the common man. If you look at how long it takes the minimum wage worker to pay for our national defense bill each year, realize it’s 300 hours of work – that’s seven and a half weeks. Working at minimum wage, it would take nearly 20% of your annual earnings to pay for your portion of national defense. That’s socialism by the way: all sharing in the expense of having a mighty military. Same goes for having police, fire, roads, water systems, sewer systems and sycophants in office making a lot of noise about things that really aren’t that important.

As a last ditch measure of spite, Trump is trying to term limit public health officials. Many believe we need term limits on politicians too, but the reality is we need a grading system for their success. Did the standard of living improve, did infant mortality rates decrease, did the income gap close, did fewer people die from violence, were there less crimes, less disease, more high school graduates?

Maybe if we stopped worrying about politics and actually cared about outcomes, politics would actually make a bigger difference to more people, and more of us would feel like the power we give up at the ballot box was actually given up for good.

 

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