As we stare into the abyss of this primary selection season, reality only reinforces perceptions concerning the state of the American electorate. Our people are making choices that will dramatically affect the path of The United States going forward. The results of choices so far are on the whole, terrifying.

The rise of Trump, Cruz, Sanders and to a lesser extent Hillary, reflects the horrendous lack of knowledge of what was called civics when I attended high school. That course, complimented by American history courses, were designed to give students the basic knowledge of how American government works. For some reason people today seem to have a complete lack of understanding or are willingly ignorant of the basic duties of citizenship.

It has been said if you want to teach Americans geography, go to war. Our tradition of being geographically impaired has reached new heights. Many can’t find Iraq or Iran on a map. They can’t locate DC or many States. Nor do they see that as an issue. people can’t name the Three branches of our government.  naming major office holders seems beyond their grasp.

The foremost requirement of being a good citizen is making an informed vote on all issues on every ballot in every election. Not just when you’re excited by a candidate in a Presidential year. Not just when there’s a ballot issue you feel strongly about. Your duty is to vote in every election to make your voice heard on every issue that will affect your future. That’s school boards. It’s county commissioners. It’s mayors. city councils, city attorneys, sheriffs, judges and all the local or statewide positions filled directly by ballot.

According to Ohio SoS site in 2014 only 40.65 percent of eligible voters in Ohio bothered to show up to vote. The reasons were varied. There was  little support for the Democratic candidate for governor. General disillusionment in voting for candidates in gerrymandered districts and apathy in general. A lot of what I heard in bars and coffee shops was resignation. The idea their vote doesn’t matter seems to far too widespread.

In 2010 49.22 percent of Ohioans voted. Kasich was elected Governor by less than a 2 percent margin. The common wisdom is turnout drives Democratic victories.

In 2012, a Presidential election year turnout in Ohio was 70.53 percent.  President Obama carried Ohio by 5 percent.

The year 2014 saw a turnout of 40.65 percent.

Compared to nations across the globe our turnout is beyond terrible. It’s a total abdication of duty, allowing the few to determine the future.

The low turnout by voters vote in off year elections hands the win to whatever constituents vote. They are usually conservative Republicans. They vote. Low voter turnout in 2010 resulted in the loss of all of Ohio’s statewide offices, which were held by Democrats, to the Republican Party. That loss put the Ohio GOP in charge of redistricting and gave us Kasich. The horror of the present gerrymandered map is a direct result of people not voting.

Voting is the backbone of how our Republic’s representative democracy functions. Too many have decided to hand off their duties to the fervent few. However voting is not the sum total. We need to be informed. We need to understand the why and how things work.

Another duty of being a citizen is having a basic grasp of how government and to a lesser extent political parties actually function. Jefferson felt an informed and educated citizenry was necessary for the Republic to function. It is our responsibility to engage in discourse as we search for understanding of complex issues. Talking politics is how we discover other views to accept, finding another way to see opposing positions or to reject the input outright. Political discussions are a must to build a consensus. That public point of view should inform our representatives in the performance of their duties.

We have so dropped the ball on that. Today rational political discussion is simply a distant memory if it ever existed. The current atmosphere of anger and vitriol has hijacked any hope of reconciliation.

In the Republican Party hate, xenophobia and nascent fascism is what passes as policy. The delusional unrelenting attacks on President Obama and his record feeds the distrust and loathing of the last eight years. Cruz wants to burn down America as we know it to build a theocracy on the smoldering ruins. Trump has created a cult of personality hellbent on building a monument to his ego. Is it any wonder the world thinks we are batshit crazy?  Our allies look on our carnival of an election cycle in horror.

The people who feel hate and ignorant views are legitimate ways to govern a growingly diverse country are the rancid fruit of GOP policies. This  is the result of plans put in place by that vicious rat bastard Nixon. His Southern Strategy opened the sluice gates to the likes of Falwell, Atwater, Limbaugh, Ailes, Buchanan, Murdoch and the Tea Party.

This constituency rejects this nation’s bloody history. They reject science. They want faith based law.  They believe the First Amendment is for Christians only. These people are the terrifying result of the long American tradition of wearing proud ignorance as a badge of honor. All of this is a clear result of a self reinforcing conservative media. The narratives are loudly proclaimed as gospel by conservatives. The result is a complete breakdown of the social compact. The idea we work for the common good has vanished behind the smoke and mirrors of neglect.

By many there is a total rejection of our government, institutions and way of life. The debacle in Oregon is a perfect example of that. The sympathetic ear from Trump and Cruz shows how far we’ve strayed. Unbounded fear and hate is now a blazing political norm on the right.

The rise of Bernie Sanders shows what is happening on the left flank of the Democratic Party. Bernie’s candidacy is reminiscent of Gene McCarthy and George McGovern’s youth-driven insurrections. Bernie has raised issues that resonate with the disaffected left. Like the far right in the GOP they feel betrayed by mainstream liberalism. The Sanders phenomenon has pushed Hillary to the left, which in itself isn’t a bad thing.  Sanders has also attracted a good many to politics for the first time. The downside is many new to the process lack any understanding of how the political parties work. Also many idealists entering the fray for the first time tend to be ideologically rigid. This campaign has attracted a lot of youthful voters as did Senator Obama in 2008.

However, many of these supporters see the Democratic Party as corrupt and a tool for oppression by the 1 percent. That view frames the political process as a battle for the heart and soul of the Democratic party. In both camps true believers condemn media blackouts where none exist. Too many partisans see election fraud in losses. On social media spreads the view that any election lost was stolen. It also enables vitriol towards views on both sides to become extraordinarily divisive.  Some discount the losses in the South as irrelevant because those are red states and can’t be carried in November anyway. By doing that they dismiss the role of African Americans as a vital part of the Democratic base. These vocal few alienate a broad swath of rank and file Dems. Because of this a dangerous split of the party is possible. As Will Rogers said in the 20s, I don’t belong to any organized political party; I’m a Democrat.

The my-candidate-only movement harkens back to to the primary fight between Humphrey and McGovern in 1972. There was still a lot of festering anger about the Chicago Convention in 1968. The Miami floor fight in ’72 was vicious as McGovern wrested the nomination. This caused mass defections to Nixon by appalled traditional Dems. Like then, many of the party’s  partisans are pledging to not vote, vote for The Greens or even Trump if their pick loses the nomination. This idea by espoused by people like Susan Sarandon is suicide for America as anything other than an united Democratic Party and it’s usual massive turnout in presidential years could possibly hand the election to Trump or Cruz. Another example of Dems snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

This cycle reinforces the idea of the Democratic Party’s big tent. Vigorous debate helps frame party’s views and policies going into the convention. Both candidates will have the base of support needed to develop the Party Platform in Philadelphia.

Politics has become an end to a means. No one actually makes any policy proposals that may work. Everything is jockeying for power. It is all us versus them as we demonize friends, family and coworkers. Derision is the norm. Those who disagree are traitors to the nation. Conspiracy theories abound. Wealthy donors are dedicated to influence the vote from the shadows. Millions of dollars are used to frame the debate in favor of extremist conservative views of what America should be.  Any semblance of compromise and working for a better future is gone because bipartisan solutions are considered heresy.

Complete lack of knowledge of government skews political thought to extremes exploiting that ignorance.

So there seems to be the belief on all sides that the President is solely responsible for the results we see in D.C.

In 2010, President Obama was held completely responsible for getting the ACA rather than single payer. He was blamed for not closing Gitmo. There was anger that the election of PBO did not usher in a utopia of progressive ideals made law. So, in 2010 many stayed home because they saw the President’s inability to fulfill his agenda as selling out to the GOP, giving away the store in negotiations and not trying hard enough.

I was amazed then as I am now of the rhetoric from my compatriots on the left. The 2010 attacks ignored political reality and the ability of POTUS to get policies implemented.  True PBO had a Democratic majority in the Congress.  Speaker Pelosi was able to shepherd through numerous bills to move the President’s agenda forward. Those bills went to the Senate to die.

Following the 2008 election the Senate had a Democratic majority of 57-41. The Senate’s two Independents caucused with the Dems. Arlen Specter changed parties giving the Democratic Party 58 seats as it pushed the GOP to 40. The two Independents gave a 60-40 split, the bare minimum to break a filibuster if the Party line held..

When it came to the ACA, single payer was DOA. It was a non starter with Blue Dog Dems and Lieberman (I-CT). So the fight to cobble together a health care plan played out in the Senate and was covered in the press ad nauseum. Sausage making is not pretty. The GOP were united in opposition and joined by a few Dems. Thus there was no way to break a filibuster. So the ACA was crafted. The bill passed the House and then the Senate in reconciliation, avoiding a bloody filibuster floor fight. The so-called Democratic majority in the Senate was only on paper. Without the help of conservative Dems, the President was unable to push many his policies through Congress. A NIMBY drive denied him the ability to close Gitmo.

We still see the lack of knowledge dominating our politics today. People on the right and left contend PBO basically rules by fiat. They ignore the basic function of Congress. The House controls the purse. Both the House and Senate pass the budget. It seldom resembles the proposed budget sent to the Hill by the White House. All POTUS can do is cajole, convince and bend an arm or two to get a budget he can live with. No matter the reality, people blame the President for the actions of Congress.

Many on the left deride President Obama for not over reaching via executive orders. The right rails about the lawless abuse of power by using those same orders to act within the narrow parameters when POTUS can shape federal regulations. It’s simple really, the President does not and can not rule by fiat.

Donald Trump is constantly giving policy statements (or what passes as policy from him) that have no relationship to the real world. He plans to create databases of Muslims ignoring the need for accompanying legislation. Tattoos are passe. He thinks the Japanese internment camps were a swell idea that can be done by EO, as FDR did. Trump has no clue how the Military chain of command works and he has he plans to order troops to commit war crimes. He is sure they’ll obey his illegal orders. Donald has called the Geneva Convention and NATO irrelevant. This implies Trump’s appeal is rooted in the desire for a strong man to save the America that never existed. They long for an overt Imperialism.

The media is complicit in the rise of the Donald. Since his announcement the press has showered him with billions in free airtime. Another pillar of an informed electorate is gone. Edward R. Murrow would be appalled. The press which once asked hard policy questions, called out lies, and investigated the candidates, now lobs softballs. Any hack can be called upon to fill the 24/7 news cycle. The pundits reinforce the illusion that political discourse should actually make sense.

So, the failure of simple civics education has helped send us into the wilderness of false expectations, massive divisiveness, and an anger at the government fueled by misunderstanding of how our system works. We are reaping the ignorance we have sown by shredding education. Along the way we have lost the ability to overcome rancor to install office holders that actually govern. We have decided citizenship is only a partisan battle in which there are no winners.

 
  • Susan Riley

    Thank you so much for writing this article. You’ve been able to articulate beautifully what I’ve felt for so long, but could only inadequately express to others.

  • sufferingsuccatash

    Don’t despair my friend. What you may see as a failure of citizenship is actually a rebirth of a mobilized citizenry and a rejection of the establishment parties who are responsive to their donor base of millionaires and billionaires. What you characterize as false expectations and a failure of how the system works is anything but that. The Sanders’ supporter know full well just how the system works and who it is working for and who is being neglected. The vision of a country that will provide health care, education, jobs, and a minimal living standard is hardly out of reach of the richest country in the world. Surely there is ample money to fund all of it, if America can afford a state of constant war and covert activity on a global scale all of which has proven to be an unnecessary and dangerously destabilizing waste of money. What is ultimately discouraging is the manner in which the media has aggressively tried to cast the Sanders’ platform as irrelevant and half-baked. It isn’t and clearly more and more people of all demographics are recognizing the capture of the political system by the wealthy and the means to undo it.

  • Red Rover

    Do the Republicans craft policies to avoid a Democratic filibuster? No. Then why should the Democrats? If someone believes so strongly that health care should be denied as a right in the richest country in the world that they’ll drone on about it for hours, call his or her bluff and make him or her take that regressive stand.

    THEN if you have to compromise, do so. But don’t do the opposite side any favors and allow them to save face by not having to advocate for their own trash heap of a platform. Shed some light on these bozos and see what decisions they really make.

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