Politics is awash in dysfunction. There is a bipolar political divide between those who favor the Democratic Party and those who favor the Republican Party. Although this ideological division is largely a national phenomenon engineered and accented by political elites seeking to exploit partisans, individuals at the local level mirror the extreme polarization in the positions they adopt on various issues. This is especially true when it comes to nationalized issues. When it comes to nationalized issues in general, more Democrat and Republican voters can be expected to align themselves along partisan lines. When it comes to nationalized issues that are also locally significant, Democratic and Republican voters can be expected to converge toward positions that best reflect their local interests. That is with exception to extremist, hardliner Democrats and Republicans. When it comes to the leaders and elected officials of both political parties, identity politics also seem to trump constituent interests more often than not. It is easy to superficially blame political polarization, but the deeper problem is a cultural issue.
Over the past few decades, the US has seen power transferred back and forth between Democrats and Republicans. Not only have these major swings been the product of massive voter turnout in favor of one side or the other, they have also been the product of massive voter apathy and oppositional voting. This pattern and many other signs, including consistent and persistence low approval ratings for public officials, demonstrate American voters are simply dissatisfied with their candidate choices. Voters may like certain things about certain candidates and they might like certain public policies of public figures they like, but their interests are not being adequately represented by public officials and the policies they institute. For their part, political leaders do cater to the interests of select groups of constituents, increasingly those on the fringe, and special interest groups. They do not, however, seem to feel beholden to all of their constituents. As the representatives of the American People, all public officials are supposed to represent the interests of their constituents in government, yet they are also supposed to serve the interests of all American voters. Public officials need to govern by consensus. Unfortunately, consensus is, at best, an afterthought.
More and more, consensus and compromise are seen as ideological betrayals. From the Federal to the State to the local level, consensus governing is being replaced by self-serving partisan rule. Critical issues are ignored and the legislative process stalled until one political party seizes enough power in government to force through its agenda. When a majority of voters inevitably reject the extreme partisan agenda of the ruling party, they empower the minority party. As demonstrated by Republican efforts in Wisconsin to secure the legacy of Governor Scott Walker and hobble the Democratic governor from pursuing his own agenda, political leaders seem to view election outcomes as nothing more than threats to their power. They do not appear to see elections as referendums on their agendas. They do not seem to respect the will of the majority nor majority rule in general. In other words, they do not care about the views and interests of those who disagree with them and those they do not need. Quite frankly, the lack of responsiveness, the rejection of consensus governance, and the apparent indifference toward voters, suggests political leaders see their constituents as nothing more than a means to acquire power.
When people do not care about the needs and wants of others, when people simply use others to get what they want, they tend to either vilify those they can use to garner support for their own gain or simply treat them like human garbage. They tend to see those who are no longer useful or convenient to them as disposable. With exception to a few true statesmen, politicians have always been self-serving and opportunistic to varying degrees. Just as closet killers with the same mindset exploit oversight vacuums and need social pressure to ensure they do not act on their natural instincts, politicians cannot be trusted to do the “right thing.” This is why civic engage is so pivotal to proper governance. Beyond just voting, the American People need to be involved in their democratic government on a regular basis. A lack of civic engagement has created an oversight vacuum that has cultivated the self-serving characterizes of politician and allowed politically active groups to gain undue influence over government. The US has an ill-democratic culture in which the American People want their elected officials to serve them, even after they fail to foster responsive, consensus governance.
Furthermore, the American culture has been transformed significantly over the past few generations. Where America’s Greatest Generation tended to be more altruistic and socially responsible, America’s ruling generational, i.e. the Baby Boomers, tends to be very egocentric and self-serving. Not only are these traits mirrored by politicians, who tend to follow social trends in their quest for votes, they are reflected in the way American government and society function. In other words, the egocentric and self-serving tendencies among voters has cultivated a political culture that caters to the interests of key demographics and influential special interest groups. It has cultivated a political culture that empowers politicians who reject consensus governance and cater to the narrow interests of their supporters at the expense of the “common good.” Citizens have a democratic right to demand their governments represent their views and interests, but they also have a responsibility to demand government do so by developing consensus public policies that address the interests of all citizens. Not only do citizens need to embrace civic engagement, they must also overcome identity politics and consider the political interests of others.
Read old posts