Living as a non-voter gives one an interesting perspective on human behavior during election cycles. Every four years, for my entire life, I’ve watched the nation reach a fever pitch of pettiness and irrational hostility wherein half the nation thinks the world is going to end if the other half gets its way. And of course one half has to win, which means that no matter what happens, half the country has to undergo what they see as the apocalypse. There is kicking and screaming. There are tears. But the world doesn’t end. In fact nothing really changes, and it all starts over again as the next election approaches.
It is disturbing to grow up observing your elders, the ones who are supposed to be ‘wise guides,’ and see them speaking like children, thinking like children, acting like children, throwing tantrums on national television, and getting applauded for it, as if that were somehow courageous behavior? Clearly this does not apply to all of them. There are some who are compassionate, knowledgeable, far-seeing, and capable. People I rightly look up to and hold in very high esteem. But unfortunately the others are the ones who make it into congress and onto the television; and by and large the man in the street follows suit, so that once the tone is set for public discourse, everything descends into mediocrity.
When I was young, the behavior of these politicians, preachers, parents, and pundits was worse than childish, because even as a child I was disturbed by it. Part of me sensed the absurdity, and knew that these ‘adults’ wouldn’t be saying all of these crazy things if they were not so madly invested in ‘politics’ and ‘the party.’ I realized very early in life that politics makes people stupider. Or, if it doesn’t actually make people stupider, it at least makes them act stupider than they otherwise would, which amounts to the same thing in the end.
The only word I can use to describe it is disappointing. I wanted to look up to the adults around me; I wanted to admire the nation’s leaders. I gave them the benefit of the doubt until I couldn’t do it any longer. Then I picked up my toys and I went home, and I haven’t gone back to that playground since.
It bothered me that the electoral process appeared to be broken, but what bothered me even more was to see the social energies of millions of people wasted, not to mention the vast sums of money we pour into campaigns.
Elections are, in my experience, less than useless. If they were merely useless, things wouldn’t be so bad. After all, there’s no harm done in a small diversion every four years, right? But in reality, there seems to be some sort of perverse force at work, driving us lower and lower every cycle. Like the flushing of a toilet. Every trip around the bowl we lose more money and more national dignity.
If elections are less than useless, as it seems they are, then wouldn’t the nation be better served if it redirected all of the time, money, and passion usually spent on elections and instead spent it on something worthwhile? It seems to me that we’d be better off if we completely ignored the presidency for a few decades and gave the attention that we normally heap onto that defunct office instead to our families, or to local organizations that need manpower, or to just about anything else that matters to us and has value.
Edmund Burke is famous for saying: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
I agree with this, and simply respond that good men do nothing because they are voting instead.
Even those good men who do good things in between visits to the ballot box are usually doing things that revolve around future visits to the ballot box. Everything is oriented toward the election, in a never-ending movement to and from the polling place. All political activity seems to form a huge circle that begins and ends on Election Day, and which, therefore, goes nowhere but around, in a freakish equilibrium of impotence.