When Elections Are Just About Winning, We All Lose

“The ultimate effect of democracy is to render political leaders helplessly incapable of true governance, since they are inevitably forced to gratify and flatter the common people, who can turn on them with impunity as soon as they fail to please.”

— Elizabeth Watson Scharffenberger,
Introduction to Republic by Plato

Inauguration day is just one week away, and there are a lot of people still trying to wrap their heads around our new President, how he came to be elected, and what he will mean for our future. Many of us are angry. Many of us are still in shock. Many of us are trying to figure out what weakness in our system lead to this and how can we fix them for the future.

One place blame has been placed, rightfully so I believe, is squarely on voters. Elections have become little more than a game show to us. Most of us are not informed. We don’t want to be informed either. We don’t carefully consider our candidates let alone the impact their views will have on all Americans. Instead, we join a team, Republican, Democrat, Liberal, Conservative, Tea Party, Green Party, and cheer our players on.

Our elections are no longer about the happiness and cooperation of American citizens but about who has a claim on what America is. It is about who America belongs to, a question  I thought we had answered a long time ago.

Every cycle we do whatever it takes to win, the job of governance be damned.

When we write off the whole system as inevitably corrupt. And when we sit back and blame the leaders we elect without examining our own role in electing them.

Barack Obama

President-elect Trump ran on a platform of hatred and fear. He has promised to work closely with a party that is known for pushing a brand of governance that favors some groups over others. A party that many would argue not only doesn’t serve all Americans but in many ways perpetuates harm and humiliation onto Americas most vulnerable.

This has happened not because the majority of Americans agree with the President-Elect or his party but through a quirk of American politics that is fair in some ways and unfair in others, the Electoral College. Most Americans wanted one thing, but those Americans weren’t spread out enough, and so the other thing happened, and now we can’t agree on who was right or what to do now.

I think our system is broken, but I don’t have any the answers. No one does. Or maybe we do, it’s only that so many of those answers make us uncomfortable.

We Americans are arrogant when it comes to governance. No one does it better than us right? We have it all figured out. Even through all the infighting and political road block we are sure we are doing it better than everyone else. I would argue that this last election proves the system needs a little tweaking. I wonder:

  • Should we have a system where the popular vote elects the president?
  • Should we have a system where one party can be allowed to control all branches of government?
  • Should there be more qualifications for President of the United States? Should there be more for his cabinet appointments too?
  • Should Congress be allowed to vote in their own interest?
  • Should the government be allowed to take away rights and care from its citizens, for example defunding Planned Parenthood or repealing the Affordable Care Act?

There aren’t any easy answers to these questions but they are things we need to start considering. Our system is failing and that means people are scared and suffering. There should be no excuses for this.

Our Constitution is a remarkable, beautiful gift. But it’s really just a piece of parchment. It has no power on its own. We, the people, give it power. We, the people, give it meaning — with our participation, and with the choices that we make and the alliances that we forge.

Barack Obama

There is no question that we have taken our right to vote for granted. We have forgotten to use our voice for good. We have forgotten that we had a dream once, to be the greatest country on Earth. We forgot about freedoms to live the way we wanted, to tolerate and cooperate, to work together to overcome any obstacle. We forgot that education and hard work are what we are all about. There was a time when the most qualified person got the job, but now the loudest, crudest, and cruelest are our only qualifications.

We have not earned the great privilege we possess.

No, that we should ever take away the right to vote from any citizen, in fact, I personally believe it should be much easier to vote. We should never make anyone earn it or prove that they deserve it. What needs to change instead is our philosophy around voting and political participation.

We should feel a need to be worthy of what is given us by birthright. We think the geographic luck of our place of birth makes us better. We are Americans, and we are too good to have to care who are elected officials are and where they plan to take us. Maybe we think nothing bad can ever happen to us. We are like naive and inexperienced teenagers enjoying the thrill and never believe we might actually die.

I am embarrassed by our behavior. I am sickened by our disregard for one another and our high and mighty attitude.

We should have been taught better what the right to shape our collective future means in the context of history. We should have been shown what can happen when people have no voice. We should have been told it can happen to us.

We should have been reminded that we aren’t better by birth but by our attitude, our ethics, and our drive to take the high road no matter how hard it may be. We are better because we care. We are better because we are inclusive and nurturing. We are better because we look to the future and do what needs to be done to ensure that we not only survive, but thrive.

At least, we used to be.

I want to think we can get back to that and I hoped we could do it by looking at the mistakes of others. But most people have to learn the hard way, and maybe nations follow the tendencies of the people. I hope we all can survive the next four years and I hope we all come out of it with a greater sense of obligation to participate in the future of our country.

But remember, none of this happens on its own. All of this depends on our participation; on each of us accepting , regardless of which way the pendulum of power happens to be swinging.

Barack Obama


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Featured image via Unsplash


One Reply to “When Elections Are Just About Winning, We All Lose”

  1. Beautifully written. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could be a country that emphasizes collaboration and compromise over competition, teams, and winning/losing? It’s so funny to me that we encourage this polarizing behavior in our high school debates, our cooking shows, and our sports, and then are shocked when that mentality slips into our politics. (P.S. I love all the quotes from Obama as well.)


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