A new way to look at elections for the rest of us.
Get out the vote campaigns have become mainstream in the last few election cycles. The last two weeks before an election have become like an NPR or PBS fundraising drive. The target audience of these campaigns winds up in two camps: succumb to the pressure and grudgingly vote or tune it out and wait for it all to be over. The pressure is only exacerbated by new early voting laws and omnipresent social media.
I love to vote. I have proudly voted in every election since I came of age. I love the ritual of going to the polls, secretly marking my ballot, and receiving my ‘I voted’ sticker. It’s an action that reminds me, at least once every two years, of the beauty of the project that is the United States of America. I refuse to vote early if I can help it because this ritual means so much to me. I also believe the election is a snapshot in time. The law governs that the election shall take place on the first Tuesday in November and if I send in my ballot on the last Saturday in September, I can’t be sure I have all the information. I have the means and ability to vote on Election Day and that is what I will do, fully informed and completely absorbed in the ritual that forms my imagination.
The snapshot of an election gives us a few facts. We can quantify how many of our citizens are invested in government. We see the views of a nation, state, or town laid out more accurately than in any poll. We see how our government has changed since the last election and we get a forecast of how it will function over the next governing period. These results also tell us something about the election process in general. The general election is the two-minute warning in a football game. If you are only watching from that point forward, you’ve missed the full 58 minutes of play that brought you there. Sometimes the race comes down to a last-second field goal, but most of the time, elections can be won or lost by the end of the first quarter.
I won’t be the first or the last to tell you that politics in the United States is more partisan than ever. Many of our political races have only two viable candidates: one Republican and one Democrat. The constituency votes down party lines or is shifted by scandal or high-profile issues. The candidates aren’t very appealing and are often downright distasteful. With a small fraction of general election voters participating in primary elections and an even smaller fraction of people involved when candidates put themselves forward to run for office, we often wind up with the candidates and elected officials we deserve.
Elections, and indeed the function of government itself, is a very accurate measure of the health of a society and its people. Policies are legislated when a problem arises; some disagreement or injustice has taken place. The people disagree, and a law must be enacted to codify how society will move forward. The more codifications that take place, the less the people are of one mind and function well with each other. Each high-profile issue that is under the scrutiny of legislation shows a symptom of a community that is not functioning well. The healthcare debate underscores that people often run their health-related businesses mostly for profit and not primarily for the care of others. The welfare debate highlights that there are people who do not have a community of family and friends who will care for them unconditionally. The immigration debate boldly tells us that there are millions of people living dangerous and unhappy lives and everyone on both sides of the border is terrified. How can we call legislating these people progress?
Within Catholic Christian religious tradition, there is an idea of the sensus fidei (sense of faith) or sensus fidelium (sense of the faithful) whereby the entire community of believers cannot err in matters of belief when the whole body agrees together. This is a powerful statement: a unity of persons, the larger the better, can come to an objective truth. The great experiment which came from the fight for independence from England did bring great unity. Our first president was unanimously elected and even when our Constitution faced complete revision and the immediate addition of ten amendments, it continues to thrive as the longest lasting Constitution on the planet. There is a sensus fidelium among the American people to fix broken political dialogue and create unity among our leadership to really solve problems that face us all. Nothing will be fixed, however, until we recover a true sensus fidelium on what we are about. This is much deeper than political activism and turning out the vote. The elected leaders we desire will come from our homes. They will come when our children are taught respect. They will come when every neighbour is treated with the dignity of their humanity. They will come when each person is guided to craft their gifts and talents to the good of society and not for their own benefit.
Don’t tell me to vote. Show me how to love my neighbour. Show me how to be the best me I can be. Look at me; see me; love me; help me. Person by person we can reshape our society so that in two, four, ten, or twenty years we might deserve the candidates we want. The best and brightest will rise to the top and a true American transformation can take place where civility, connection, and respect are taken for granted and don’t have to be legislated.
Originally published at theunintendedflame.wordpress.com on October 28, 2018.