The next election
Theodore H. White in 1963: “No trumpets call Americans to the polls. Mostly they stand in line quietly, shuffling slowly to the 164,000 polls, where a penciled mark, a lever pulled, sums up heritage and impulse, hope, greed and fear. Almost a million Americans have died in battle to defend this way of life.”
It’s not easy to make a case that this election year redeemed the sacrifice of lives White described. So, it’s useful to look both backward and forward to decide what went wrong and what we should do in the future. And consider that there’s still time to make the best of this election.
Keep in mind what you dislike about the political system. If it’s politicians pitting people against each other, politicians refusing to work with the other side to get things done for the public, politicians using emotionally loaded terms to cause more and more polarization that leads to more and more stalemate that they then exploit, then it is important that you not reward that kind of behavior. Those people know how to manipulate us, to appeal to our worst instincts, to generate resentment and get us to vote for their dubious agendas. If we do not show restraint, if we go along with their games, we will get more of the same.
Don’t be influenced by last minute claims and charges. There’s a reason they are saved for the end—because it is difficult to respond in time. Assume that last minute charges are false.
Now, how did this year go so wrong? Delegates to the national nominating conventions used to be free agents. Now they are less so, bound to party dictates. In previous years, Democrats might have decided that the symbolism of breaking a glass ceiling was less important than electability if the needs of the party came first. Republicans might have decided that stopping a demogogic bigot was more important than following the outcomes of primaries and caucuses if the needs of the nation came first.
It might be that the notion of political parties themselves has outlived its usefulness. Is there any reason for having candidates listed on the ballot along with their affiliation to a private organization? Perhaps it is time to simply list all candidates in the primary election and narrow it to two also-unaffiliated candidates in the general election. If the parties want to affect the outcome, fine, but not with privileged status. We don’t list candidates’ affiliations with professional associations or local groups. Who needs parties in 2016?
To be sure, prying the prerogatives of the parties out of the election laws the party have spent decades inserting themselves into will not be easy. But most people have long since lost any connection to political parties. They register with one so they will get to vote on more offices in the primary. If primaries stop being party primaries, no one will have to register with a party.
Whatever it takes, we need something to change so we don’t live through another election year like this one.