the problem with voting, politics and democracy
I voted early this year. I had a small window of time when I’d be home, so I had my ballot mailed to me. The process of filling it out was a process indeed. Over the course of an hour and a half, I sat at my desk and scrupulously researched each candidate. I penned in the circles, sealed my ballot in the multiple envelopes provided and dropped it in the mailbox.
It was a grueling 1.5 hours. And I had a saddening realization.
I didn’t feel good about my vote. In fact, I’ve never felt good after casting my ballot.
I felt good in so far as I had taken part in this highly important civic duty. As far as being a democracy, voting is of the utmost importance.
But the inherent nature of what politics is, has left me with a sinking feeling after every ballot I’ve completed.
Politics is a blunt tool. It affords little room for nuance, little room for a microscopic assessment of the issues it claims to address. No candidate, including the ones I meticulously voted for, is capable of fully grappling with any issue. They exist in the space of legislation, which is anything but particular.
Politics don’t ultimately fix our problems.
If we want real change, we must shift our conversation to one of morals and values, where they come from and what gives them their strength.
We must fix ourselves before our politics can fix us.
A natural byproduct of casting my vote is a tacit endorsement of ideas and rhetoric of which I’m skeptical or disheartened by. This is true no matter who I vote for and it’s part and parcel of what we call politics.
Our political language is mired in phrases like “creating policies that work for everyone.” It’s a great sentiment and carries the zing of a political home run statement, but it suffers from the same problem politics suffers from.
It’s too simple.
Its utopic sentiment untethers us from the grounds of reality.
As much as this may seem antithetical to idealistic notions, I still maintain my grip on the strongest strands of idealism.
Idealism is what moves us forward, what motivates us to create a better world, what allows us to exercise creativity and dream big dreams. But idealism cannot stand alone in the maelstrom of politics.
So while it’s a noble quest to make policies that “work for everyone,” it easily leads us down a road of division.
Everyone has their ideas of what those policies that “work for everyone” are and, unsurprisingly, they differ greatly.
Our politics are so divided because we’re trying to solve moral problems through political means.
We don’t need more “political conversations.” We don’t need more “activism.” We need a moral lens and a moral mirror; a way of bettering ourselves that doesn’t shift the responsibility to our leaders.
Anything else is lazy by comparison. We must demand better from ourselves before we demand better from our leaders.
So when I cast my ballot, I cast it not for who’s on it. I cast it for democracy. But more than that, a democracy defined by the assumption of individual responsibility to make ourselves better; a democracy concerned less with politics and more with morals.
Relevant Idealect postings:
Grappling with Unity- a profile touching on legislated changes vs heart changes
The Idealect Podcast ep. 2- Curiosity (part 2)- the end of the podcast features a reflection on the real meaning of democracy, how it involves something much greater than voting
Cultivating Agency- a profile of Harry Boyte talking about the true heart of democracy