As has probably been clear of late, my mood regarding current politics is best described as fatalistic. The recent Republican power play over Supreme Court nominations may have pushed me over the edge and into the belief that the system is beyond repair, but the feeling has been building over years of obstructionism and the growing political civil war that the radical right wants so badly.
So it’s worth asking why, given my current lack of faith in positive outcomes, I’m still committed to voting in every primary and general election I can make it to.
Back at the tail-end of the 1990s, when President Bill Clinton was riding his impeachment scandal to sky-high approval ratings, the thought of a Bush restoration via George W. Bush seemed a little on the inconsequential side. I remember thinking and saying, to paraphrase the past, “How bad could it be?”
That was a question we didn’t need answered.
I voted for Al Gore in 2000 but I honestly didn’t take the election all that that seriously. At least until Florida, Ralph Nader, and Bush v. Gore.
So these days I take all elections seriously, even if the political system itself seems broken.
Here’s why. The current crack-up at the national level has roots going back to the Civil Rights era and beyond. You can’t really understand where we are now without understanding why Southern Democrats bolted for the Republican party rather than support equal rights for black Americans; Richard Nixon’s southern strategy and appeals to the so-called silent majority; or the religious right’s relentless focus from the 1970s onwards on winning local elections to school boards and city councils.
That last one is particularly relevant. The religious and radical right have been able to leverage the system so that, through control of state legislatures and resulting gerrymandering of congressional districts, a minority of the country is able to exert near total control of Congress. That’s why Barack Obama won the presidency with a majority vote twice, yet Capitol Hill remains a Republican stronghold. It’s the result of decades of work and patience by people who took their elections very, very seriously.
There’s nothing wrong in theory about divided government — a democracy means people are free to vote for different parties in different situations. Where it goes wrong is when one side of that divide refuses to accept the legitimacy of the other — a distinct problem with Republicans under Clinton that has reached its nadir under Obama. In that case, you end up with the legislative branch of government holding the judicial branch hostage to delegitimize the executive. All of which is about two short steps away from being a failed state.
That’s why I will still vote. Repairing today’s fiasco will likely take decades. It will definitely take voters in the center and on the left taking their local elections as seriously as they do presidential elections. It will take effort to make sure as many people vote as possible, even as state legislatures try to turn them away.
The horror show that is the Republican presidential primary means I will be getting out to vote both in the Democratic primary and the general election. I’ll vote for Hillary Clinton because I think she’s the best choice of this situation, but I won’t be an ass about it because I want Bernie Sanders’s supporters to vote in the general (and I hope the sentiment will be returned). I’ll be doing what I can to support reasonable people in my state and local elections, because Virginia could frankly stand to be a lot less insane.
It’s not an especially inspirational reason to vote but this isn’t an especially inspirational time. Still, voting does count — so much so that plenty of people are trying to figure out ways to keep you from doing it. That’s reason enough to use it.
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