Voting: Something to unite us all?
The Editorial Board
Casting an election vote has recently taken on all the gravity of enlisting to fight in a war for civilization – and many voters approach it with the same sense of solemn duty.
Both sides believe democracy rests on the success of their preferred candidate and party. Both sides are fueled more by disgust for their enemy than by zest for bloodshed.
At stake for most local readers in 2022 is a senator and congressional representative at the national level, and a governor, senator and house representative in the state. Together these positions wield real power and influence our economic prospects, health, environment, education and overall quality of life.
Handing this over to an undeserving candidate could – as everyone agrees – bring dire consequences.
But fixating on the risks of nefarious leadership overlooks a more fundamental part of the process: In the American republic, power ultimately lies with the voter.
Unlike in Russia, Venezuela or Nicaragua – where elections are essentially staged – American voters can recall an unsatisfactory house rep after two years, a governor after four, a senator after six. By the same token, a villain only rises to power if we vote them in.
To some extent, our leadership reflects the state of our society. The division we see on Capitol Hill reflects the division in our living rooms from where we watch it.
On this basis, looking at our representatives in D.C. and Harrisburg, we should be able to say of ourselves that we’re selfish, vain, hostile, cliquey and unyielding. And we could add more to this list. (To give due credit, we should also be able to say there are few decent ones among us.)
We do of course see some of this hostility reflected in our communities, but much more we see people throughout our area feeding the hungry, fighting crime, putting out fires, working tirelessly in classrooms to build up the next generation, helping neighbors change a tire, taking care of elderly relatives.
Perhaps this shows simply that those of us living here in Pittsburgh’s western flank are better citizens than those of the nation at large?
It’s not a bad theory – but it’s probably more likely that, across the country, we let our preoccupation with political sparring take up too much mental space and pollute
our view of our neighbor.
We’re absorbed into the combat, pick our side, and join the battle. Politicians seize on this, and increase their pandering and showmanship.
Scoring points for yelling at the other side matters more than passing bills to better things for all.
It’s a two-way feedback loop that must be stopped. And as voters holding the power, we should be the ones to say enough. Here’s how:
When we head to the polls on May 17, let’s go as neighboring Americans seeking a better future, not enemy combatants looking to slay. When we’re done, let’s continue getting to know those who vote differently, and let’s allow this to form our political discourse. When elected officials see us pulling together and talking over our disputes with civility and humility, they’ll be forced to do the same and drop the pandering.
Then we’ll have political representatives who truly represent us.