Divided We Fall

How would you measure your faith in our democratic republic against these three criteria: (1) free and fair political competition; (2) fair treatment for all, regardless of their political orientation or other distinguishing features; and (3) good results in ways that matter to you … security, good jobs, justice, low inflation, et cetera?

Lots of people have written about poor results, the third criterion, especially during and just after the great recession that did so much damage across the US and the world in general.  Frankly, we did as well as any country and better than some, but that won’t make anyone fell better if they lost their job or had to take a pay cut.

Free and fair political competition is in trouble in some parts of the country as others, including FFA Democracy, have written before.  For example, many US citizens live in counties or states that don’t offer voters any choice in terms of elected officials: candidates come from only one party.  In 2016, 41 percent of the state senate races and 42 percent of the state house races had only one candidate!  That can’t be healthy.  Competition has been limited on the floors of many legislatures as well, though it seems worse at the federal level.

Is the balance of power shifting so that voters are less able to punish poorly performing politicians, while politicians are finding it easier to punish voters, as against the second criterion?

What does the evidence say?  Some of the negative things appearing in the Twitter accounts of major politicians certainly appear to single out specific people.  Is there any evidence this sort of thing goes beyond words?  In this context, talk about going after various political candidates or going after various voting groups only on account of their politics and not actual crimes could be quite harmful. Conversely, false accusations of political retribution are equally harmful: they can create just as much doubt as actual retribution.

Distrust can turn from a trickle into a torrent.  If people in one party or group begin to believe they are being punished for political choices, then imagine what they will want to do if/when they come to power again.  You might say “turn about is fair play” except that the nation suffers which each new instance.  And, expecting retaliation, wouldn’t those in power now want to entrench themselves in order to avoid becoming victims themselves?  Democracy breaks down.

There are ways to stop this cycle.  What if those in power now could be given assurances that they could continue to compete politically all across the nation – if they end their dangerous tactics of retaliation and entrenchment – combined with assurances that today’s opposition will also swear off such tactics?  Doing so would allow everyone to return to the business of getting better results for our country, for our children, and for our grandchildren.  All that is required is that elected officials look out for the public interest instead of governing in pursuit of their self interest – and for each of us to insist they do so.

To take action:

  • Consider meeting with or lobbying your elected representatives.  This link lets you see who your state representatives are.  This link lets you see who your federal government representatives are. Both sites also let you see the bills your legislators passed and are considering.

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