It’s over, my fellow Americans.
It’s finally over.
Election Day has come and gone. I won’t get into the drama leading up to it or the drama that’s still unfolding, as I write this. I just want to take a step back, catch my breath, and offer some perspective to those who will hear it.
I agree this was rough. I think most others will agree with me when I say this was the most chaotic, divisive, and downright stressful election in recent memory. I’ve spoken to relatives who voted for Kennedy in 1960. They agree that this year was, by far, the worst in terms of stakes, rhetoric, and tone.
That’s saying a lot, by the way.
However you feel about the candidates or who you voted for, I genuinely hope this election has been revealing, to a certain extent. It’s tempting to be cynical about it. I certainly wouldn’t blame anyone for feeling that way. At the same time, we should also take stock as to why this election was so harrowing, for lack of a better word.
The world is such a messed-up place right now. We’ve got wars, economic collapse, and a once-in-a-century pandemic has that killed over a million people in the span of nine months. Things are bad right now, more so than they’ve been at any point in my lifetime.
Most don’t question that, unless they’re rich and well-connected.
What I do question, however, is why people trust or even expect politicians to help solve these problems.
That’s a notion that, in my opinion, fuels stressful elections like this. An election is supposed to be a job interview for a position for a public-serving official. It’s not supposed to be some expensive spectacle in which we all get behind the candidate who says the right things to just enough people in a handful of swing states.
That’s not democracy.
That’s a bad reality TV show.
Now, it’s tempting to just blame the politicians and that’s understandable. Politicians are easy targets for mockery and they’ve no one to blame but themselves for that. We should criticize them. They are, after all, in positions of power and public trust. They should be held to a higher standard.
That standard, however, should not involve trusting them to fix everything that ails us, from the economy to who pays a fine for when a female nipple is shown during a halftime show. That’s not just asking too much of one person. It’s asinine.
It’s also self-defeating. Politicians make lots of promises and break plenty of them, but let’s not lay the blame entirely on their honesty or lack thereof. They’re only human. Even the most selfless, hard-working politician can only do so much to deliver on every promise. There just aren’t enough hours in the day or enough personnel to get it done.
That’s not even accounting for the times when politicians make objectively impossible promises. Certain policy pitches may sound like great slogans or taglines, but logistically speaking, they just cannot be done in the real world. It’s not that the sincerity isn’t there. There just isn’t enough people or resources.
Therein lies the source of the great cycle of toxic politics. It goes something like this.
Politician A makes a bold promise. People rally behind them. Politician A get elected.
Politician A cannot deliver on those promises. People turn against them.
Politician B comes along, offering new or better promises. People rally behind them. Politician B get elected.
Again, Politician B can’t deliver on all those promises. People turn against them.
Politician C comes along to make another set of promises and the cycle continues.
It goes beyond party affiliation, political systems, or shifts in power. It’s an unavoidable flaw in a democratic system. An election, by default, isn’t going to elect someone with the greatest governing skill. It can only elect someone with the skills to convince enough people that they can govern.
I won’t say it’s a terrible system. Compared to the alternatives, it’s probably the best we can manage right now in our current environment. However, it is not a system in which any politician, no matter how successful, can solve the problems we want them to solve. Even when the system is working at its best, it’s still limited.
That’s not to say politicians can’t be part of a solution. They definitely can be. A politician can be a facilitator of sorts, either by leadership or by policy. The specifics, though, are best left to people with the right drive, incentives, and know-how.
Whether it involves combating climate change, reducing poverty, or promoting public health, the bulk of the responsibility will still fall on the general public. We, as a people, have to collectively work on these issues together. That’s how any social species within a functional society adapts, grows, and prospers.
The role of government and politicians is always changing. The extent or details of that role depends heavily on the issue at hand. The Presidents we elect, as well as the various legislators and judges at all levels, will always have some impact on how we further our interests. The key is balancing that impact with actual, tangible efforts on our part.
The next four years are sure to be eventful. Hopefully, they’re eventful for all the right reasons. Whatever happens, use this past election as a teachable moment.
Politicians come and go.
Ambitious people will keep making bold promises and breaking them, either on purpose or through no fault of their own. At the end of the day, it all comes back to us. We have a part to play in making our world and our lives better. Let’s focus on doing ours before we trust anyone else to do it for us.