By Willow (willowashmaple.xyz)

The state of American politics on this election day

November 8, 2022

I no longer write about politics a lot. After many years of activism and community organizing, and having witnessed the sorry state of U.S. politics, I sort of lost interest. As conservatives used to say, not everything in society is politics, and not everything in society should be addressed in the realm of politics.

Once again, today's midterm elections are called "the most consequential" of our times. I've heard this two years ago, four years ago, six years ago, and eight years ago. Most of my friends these days are Democrats and left-leaning independents. They feel that a Republican victory will bring an existential crisis to the United States.

They routinely characterize Republican voters as racists, white supremacists, greedy capitalists, monsters, mentally ill, cultists, and worse. They seem to believe that every voter who chooses a Republican candidate is a literal KKK and Nazi member, a misogynist, and a homophobe, whose ONLY reason for casting a GOP vote is pure hatred. "Voter suppression!" they float conspiracy theories of billionaires and the Trump family systemically destroying the country. Whether this is true or not, let's flip the script for a few minutes.

Republican voters also believe that today's election is "the most consequential" of all times. They characterize Democratic voters as communists, "white-hating racists," anti-Christian bigots hellbent on shutting down their churches, monsters, "libtards," cultists, and worse. They seem to believe that every voter who chooses a Democratic candidate is a literal "baby-killer," "groomer," "pedophile," and satanist, whose ONLY reason for casting a Democratic vote is pure hatred. "Voter fraud!" they float conspiracy theories of George Soros, the Chinese Communist Party, and the Clinton family systemically destroying the country.

In reality, most American voters want the same thing: a better life for themselves and their families, a good, safe community for them to live in, good paying and rewarding jobs, and perhaps most importantly, freedom.

Not so long ago, everyone understood this, and the opposition party was nonetheless the "loyal opposition," loyal to the country and to the people they represent. Nowadays, it feels like elected officials of both parties feel obligated only to represent their own party and not all constituents. Thanks to hyperpartisanship, American politics became highly toxic. Loyalty to the party and the mega-donor class is more important than loyalty to the constitution, to the citizens, and to the constituency. But this divide is not caused only by the GOP, the Tea Party, or the MAGA movement.

Democrats accuse the "MAGA Republicans" of denying the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election. They conveniently forget that the Democratic Party spent four years denying the legitimacy of the 2016 presidential election (although, to its credit, President Barack Obama committed himself to a peaceful transition of power). For a few weeks after the 2016 elections, the leftists took it to the street every night and some of them rioted. They cannot accuse the right-wingers of political violence when the left-wingers have engaged in political violence in the fall of 2016 and in the spring and summer of 2020.

Indeed, the "stolen elections" trope originated in the 2000 elections, when many Democrats aired grievances over the Supreme Court's handling of the Gore v. Bush case and subsequent ruling installing President George W. Bush. Eight years later, the GOP reciprocated by peddling the Birther theory, accusing Barack Obama of "illegally stealing" the presidency. This has become a vicious cycle, further undermining the legitimacy and trust of this republic every election cycle.

The sad truth is, the Republican voters sincerely fear the Democrats, as much as the Democratic voters sincerely fear the Republicans.

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary (etymonline.com), the origin of the word "party" is the Old French word for "that which is divided." Modern partisan politics began in the 18th century in Great Britain, and later this practice was imported to the United States. By its very nature, political parties are divisive. They turn a legislature into an adversarial game between two teams (even in a multiparty system, they are usually grouped into the governing coalition and the opposition). Over 300 years later, it seems that this failed experiment has become untenable.

Part of this toxicity comes from the sense of powerlessness. Why do all these professional politicians, controlled by lobbyists and powerful donors, make so many decisions that affect our daily lives, hundreds or thousands of miles away in Washington, D.C.? To make the situation worse, not all congressional representatives are equal: If your U.S. senator's name is Mitch McConnell, he has far more power to shape the nation's laws and politics than, say, a senator named Raphael Warnock. Seniority and committee chairmanship give certain few members of Congress an extraordinary power that others do not possess, even though you may not have elected them and they may not represent you. Even though we have this biannual civic ritual called elections, our voices are practically ignored the rest of the time. Elected officials only seem to care about their re-elections and winning political gamesmanship. They are more than happy to ignore you and throw you under the bus if that's convenient for them. Even though the Declaration of Independence reads, "Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed," when was the last time we had an opportunity to explicitly give that consent to be governed? Unless you're an immigrant from another country, you have never given meaningful consent to be governed by the government of the United States of America. You were just born into it and grew up mindlessly reciting the pledge of allegiance every morning, and indoctrinated into being "American." Democracy is a joke unless you have a meaningful voice and participation in it. Practically, beyond your county and your city, an average citizen has no way to influence policies and make themself heard. Grievances occur when some powerful politicians and bureaucrats try to shut down churches because of a virus, force small businesses to pay an obscene amount of fees for endless permits just to do a few small things, to force your local libraries to remove books those politicians dislike, to prevent you from making your own healthcare decisions, and to tax and regulate your daily life to oblivion. It has become quite obvious now that the key to solving this problem is decentralization and devolution. Ideas such as subsidiarity, distributism, localism, libertarian municipalism, and mutualism should be explored while gradually reducing the scope of the federal government and Congress to their constitutional confines, and also redistributing the state government functions and decision-making powers to counties and cities.

Having lived in a rural county in Oregon for almost four years, nearly half of which under the state's COVID-19 policy, has helped me gain a broader perspective on politics. The Democratic Party of Oregon, whose support mainly comes from urban areas such as Portland, has long imposed a restrictive forest and timber policy that hurt the local economy in the county whose key industry is timber. Even as forest fires keep engulfing large swaths of Oregon each summer, the state does not allow responsible forest management practices such as thinning and controlled burning. Timber Unity began as a result of this long-standing frustration and the Democratic governor's seeming neglect of rural Oregonians. Having spent long enough time to know Columbia County, I have been quite supportive of them.

This summer, I spent time visiting smaller cities and towns that are run by Republican politicians (although in Oregon, most county and city elected positions are nonpartisan, it is not hard to find out their party registrations). Contrary to a stereotype of a "MAGA dystopia," these cities are well-run and thriving. For example, the mayor of the City of Sandy is Stan Pulliam, a "MAGA Republican" who lost his bid for the governor during the 2022 primaries. Sandy has well-maintained streets with good bike lanes and sidewalks. It also has an impressive public transit system, Sandy Area Metro, which is free within the city limits (or $1 per ride for a door-to-door demand response service). It has city-owned broadband called SandyNet, parks are beautiful and have good amenities, the public library is one of the best in the county, and small businesses are thriving (my impression from the very low storefront vacancy rate). Indeed, Mayor Pulliam was one of few public figures who stood up to Kate Brown to help keep small businesses open and their employees employed. The same can be said of other cities such as Wilsonville, Sherwood, Tualatin, Newberg, and McMinnville.

As long as we see those who are outside our political and ideological bubble as less-than-humans, scary monsters, mentally ill, and enemies, America will continue to be polarized and more toxic.

Perhaps one of the reasons why this keeps happening is the death of civic society. We tend to hang out with like-minded people, which is quite natural. But there was a time when we had other venues where we get to know other people outside the political and partisan environment: such as churches (before many denominations became reflections of political partisanship), civic service clubs, fraternal lodges, bowling or bridge clubs, and so on. There was a time when Americans had an access to communities that were purely apolitical and non-governmental (on this subject, read Robert Nisbet's book, "The Quest for Community: A Study in the Ethics of Order and Freedom"). After all, it is harder to dehumanize and fear people if they are someone we personally know and see every week.

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