There are obvious reasons to worry about the future of our democracy. I haven’t looked up numbers, but anecdotally it seems clear that people are discouraged about the direction our country is heading. Our political leaders seem unable to work together to solve real problems, and often uninterested in even trying. Ordinary folks feel disenfranchised and so check out altogether. The system seems broken.
I can be pretty cynical about politics in America today. But I fear we get the political leadership we deserve. If people fail to vote, they are effectively endorsing the current status quo. If people vote their passions rather than their principles, if they vote to support their tribe rather than for the common good, then we shouldn’t be surprised that our “leaders” cannot work together.
We need good candidates. And maybe we haven’t had enough good ones lately. But as best I can tell, voters have not shown a consistent preference for good candidates. All too often we support candidates who appeal to our self-interest or to our basest instincts rather than candidates who articulate a compelling vision of the common good.
The solution to our problems seems simple to me, even if it is hard to make it happen. First, voters need to get informed. Despite exaggerated concerns about “fake news,” plenty of good sources of information exist. Then voters need to insist on candidates who at least pretend to care about the common good more than about personal advantage or political party.
No single election can fix our problems. But every election is an opportunity to take a step back towards political sanity. And no matter how discouraged people are, we need to continue to believe that the system can work, that our leaders—current or future—can guide us towards a shared vision of the common good. The alternative is to give up on democracy and on American values as a whole. And that is not a good alternative!