The trouble with this country is . . .


I used to think bemoaning low voter turnouts was misguided. Because non-voters are the less engaged, less informed, not likely to enhance the electorate’s collective wisdom.

More recent history has changed my mind. What were once dismissed as fringe extremist views now hog the public square. The internet is a big factor, giving them a louder magaphone.* But voting proclivities are also crucial, with ideological zealots the more motivated to show up.

Thus moderate middle-of-the-road viewpoints get shoved aside by the extremes. Especially in primaries, where candidates are chosen. There turnouts are much lower than for general elections, because less informed voters don’t grasp their importance; in many cases it’s the primary that matters more. America being so gerrymandered, November elections are often foregone formalities, with real decisions made in primaries. And with primary turnouts so low, zealots can run amok.

Look at evangelical Christians. They vote. There’s almost no such thing as a non-voting evangelical. Giving them political mojo way greater than their actually small numbers might suggest. They’re only something like 15% of the population, but because they all vote, they call the tune in the Republican party, through its primaries; and parlay that nationally because their high turnouts also enable Republicans to win elections they’d lose if participation were more equal.

That’s how they succeeded in overturning Roe v. Wade, in the teeth of majority opinion. The anti-abortionists simply voted more. Trump won in 2016 by a relative handful of votes, supplied by high-turnout evangelical zealots, while millions of normal folks stayed home. And Trump packed the Supreme Court to overturn Roe.

Voting’s importance is highlighted by that history; and by the great Republican project of handicapping opposition voters and then further trying to corrupt the results. This evil is best combated by burying it with votes.

Highly mindful that throughout most of human history (and in so many places even today), ordinary people were powerless, voting is for me a sacrament. Asalient act of participation in social solidarity with my fellow citizens. It’s one of humanity’s mightiest inventions, that changed the world. It’s tragic that so many people take it so lightly.

They’ll say voting for one bunch of politicians over another is pointless. Even seeing refusal to vote as somehow high-minded. Such nihilistic cynicism disregards what voting actually is. If those politicians are useless it’s because people reward what they do by voting for them. It’s voters who are the problem. And the answer, surely, is not to not vote; but instead not only to vote, but to vote perspicaciously.

Another syndrome is a feeling of powerlessness, that one’s vote doesn’t matter, and it’s all controlled by big money anyway. True, mathematically a single vote won’t likely affect the outcome. But the outcome does matter a lot, and it’s determined by all our votes collectively. And while money has power, it can’t force your vote. Political annals are full of candidates who spent millions on campaigns, and lost.

Admittedly too many voters seem unable to distinguish responsible from irresponsible candidates, even good from evil. And in many nations, reasonable moderate centrist candidates often don’t even get enough votes to make a runoff, leaving a choice between extremes. But despite all this, we’d still be better off if more people voted. Better a muddled middle than giving zealots free reign.

Feelings of powerlessness particularly afflict Blacks. It’s true they still get a pretty raw deal, in a lot of ways — making it all the harder to understand their failure to fully wield their greatest weapon, the vote. To understand why so many just don’t bother. There are numerous obstacles, but a lot more Blacks would be able to vote if they were sufficiently motivated and realized its importance.

If every one of them did vote, this would be a different (and better) country.

* A typo, I meant “megaphone,” but when I saw what I’d typed, I decided to leave it.

3 Responses to “The trouble with this country is . . .”

  1. cocobiskits Says:

    While I tend to agree, my most favoured format is to legislate everyone to vote and have proportional representation..
    Also I have grave doubts that voting does not actually power decisions. Lobbying, formal and informal, funded by powerful individual and companies influences more decisions that matter. The outcome often complained of regarding PR is that there is no clear winner. Except that collaboration in decision making is surely a winning solution if we are building communitiy, rather than tribal warfare.

  2. Lee Says:

    > a lot more Blacks would be able to vote if they were sufficiently motivated and realized its importance.

    A lot more people, Black and otherwise, would vote if there were candidates that they liked. Too often these days the question is instead who is the lesser of the evils?

    I would like to see many candidates and ranked-choice voting in general elections — with primaries removed completely because they encourage people to guess who is most electable rather than to choose who is best.

  3. Roger Says:

    I vote every time, but even I know that voting sucks. I vote for often ineffectual Dems because the fascistic GOP is the alternative. I saw a black woman from Ohio on the news and she’s going to vote for JD Vance because he’d be tough on crime. The other guy wants to be more nuanced, talking about fighting crime AND the racist problems of policing. This woman does not care; her neighborhood is dangerous, and that’s the only issue that matters.

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