I try to avoid political rants, except for brief snarks. But watching the early process of candidates struggling for position, I’m struck again by an earlier theme: the construction of identity.
It’s not difficult to understand why the Founding Fathers created a system whereby the President would be chosen by supposedly educated, patriotic gentlemen of means—perhaps akin to Plato’s “philosopher kings”—though its flaws were soon evident. But any system of democratic choice depends on our extremely diverse mental processes in assessing other human beings.
Yes, it makes sense to abolish the Electoral College, to lessen gerrymandering, to move election day to the weekend, etc. Those all would result in more representative results, but not necessarily better. I’ve been pretty cynical about the process since the age of 15, though I’ve voted in every election since I was eligible and will continue, though I may certainly stand accused of “perpetuating the system.”
I have no concrete proposals. Good thing, since they’d never be heard. But here are what I see as flaws in our collective consciousness:
- Voting by general impression. He’s charming, projects hope, talks like us, is full of rage, says what he thinks, long-winded, scolding, bad hair, too earnest, looks honest. For many (on all sides of the aisle) it’s like voting for class president: pure likeability or tribal identity.
- Constructing a demon opponent. He’ll unleash nuclear war. She’s corrupt.
- Constructing a “soft” opponent. Soft on communism, soft on soft on crime, and any woman would just be plain soft. Akin to that is aversion to the “flip-flopper.” If you change your mind on an issue, even if for the better, you’re indecisive. I’ve changed quite a bit since the age of 12:, so I’d be disqualified.
- Change for the sake of change: clean out the mess in Washington, shake things up, bring in an outsider. Doesn’t matter how we change stuff: just that we do.
- We want a king. Few of us want a “weak” President or even a weak mayor. We want someone who does stuff, whatever it is. That tends to favor males, despite the records (positive or negative) of Elizabeth I, Maria Theresa, or Maggie Thatcher. It involves a faith in a toxic masculinity, a will to dominance, a muscledom, a scorn of collaboration or compromise.
- Attachment to issues. That seems it should be at the top of the list for any voter. But I distrust it. You can look at voting records, but that favors a candidate who has none, and it ignores the context and total content of the bills the candidate voted for or against. And you can have your list of issues, but can the candidate truly make it happen?
I think of myself as a progressive, yet I blanch at a recent analysis of the Democratic candidates that rated them as more or less “progressive.” That’s about as meaningful as our high school class vote for homeroom president, when I refused to raise my hand because it meant absolutely nothing: would Don or Shirley better fulfill the nonexistent duties? The teacher—a nice man—made me stand in the hall during class for my betrayal of democratic principles for which people fought and died. What are we actually talking about? I don’t care if it’s progressive or antediluvian as long as it’s good.
I just finished rereading Lewis Carroll’s ALICE books—thinking about another adaptation—and what I hadn’t really seen before, though obvious, is how outlandishly the characters adopt that same road-rage protection-of-identity as we read of daily and for which we vote. Characters bristle at anything threatening their logic, their authority, even their madness, as if clinging to a slimy slug. A poor thing, but mine own.