Us vs Them

Politics is not a sport. Good governance is not a game of winners and losers. People's lives are at stake when politicians make decisions. Far too many of those we elected have forgotten that truth – if they ever realized it at all.
But it may not be their fault, really. We elected them, after all, so if they focus on making life a little better for a chosen few instead of for everyone, We the People deserve at least half the blame. We've embraced a false division between Us and Them, and we blindly support those of Us who choose to demonize Them.
America once was deeply divided by skin color and ancestry, and those divisions have not yet been healed. We share that history with the Romans, by the way, and we haven't learned the lessons their experience offers.
Today, political differences and material wealth represent the two most obvious divisions that we handle badly. In a multitude of ways those differences ignore our common humanity and encourage groups of people to demonize the Other.
On the broadcast news, in newspapers and online news feeds we hear constantly about "wars" and "battles" between conservatives and liberals, Democrats and Republicans, Reds vs Blues. Every politician is identified by party affiliation before they are identified by where they live and who they were elected to represent. Any kind of difference is portrayed as a betrayal of public trust or the result of stupidity by the Other.
It's no surprise that the process of electing those who would govern on our behalf has degenerated into a name-calling, character-bashing blood sport that looks a lot like the WWF wrestling that passes for entertainment on video screens and in sporting arenas across the land.
In modern-day America we pretend there's a big difference between two philosophies that share more in common than any politician chooses to recognize. We elect people who promise to vote only along the lines of a narrow party platform instead of representing all the citizens within a specific geographic area. One result of that irrational mindset is the practice of drawing district lines to create geographical areas based on the voting history of the folks who live there. That kind of voter manipulation was labeled "gerrymandering" more than a century ago. It was a bad idea then. It's grown into a worse idea today.
I'm a Truly Independent Voter because I believe we desperately need a viable third party in American politics. I registered to vote as a Libertarian – not because I embrace all of that party's principles but because Libertarians are the closest group we have to being that third choice on every ballot.
Picture in your mind one big pile of 230 million eligible American voters. Now take 40 percent of those voters and make a separate pile way over on the side. In that pile are nearly 100 million Non-Voters. Half of them don't bother to register as voters while the other half simply can't be bothered to vote. It's the largest pile of voters in the land, and they have consistently Not-Voted for more than 50 years.
So forget about them for the moment and leave them on the side where they prefer to be. Go back to your original pile, much smaller now at 60 percent of the total. Divide that pile into three equal piles and line them up. Take 3 percent from the pile of voters on the right and move them to the pile on the left. Leave the center pile alone.
As simply as that, you now have the American electorate laid out in four piles. The pile on the right is the smallest at about 17 percent and consists of Republican party members. The left-side pile is the Democratic party at 23 percent, more or less. In the center are the Independents; their pile holds about 20 percent of all voters. Still way off to the side are those Non-Voters at 40 percent of the total.
Electing people into public office who aren't interested in partisan politics is the key to a quiet transformation of America instead of an ugly revolution. Thousands of elections are held every year in towns and counties across the land; it's there, close to home, where the groundwork must begin to create the democratic republic this country has always aspired to be.
When we have more local governments made up of Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians and Greens working in cooperation, we'll have a mechanism that can work at state and national levels. That's how we'll get the kind of systemic change that could endure for decades – or even centuries.

Rob Lafferty is a former newspaper editor and National Affairs columnist now living in the deep woods of Oregon's Coast Range.


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