We, the People, have spoken.
In our great national elections this week, we chose more government, less military, more dependency, less self-reliance. We chose not to change things, but to go with the flow, wherever that might lead. We chose image over reality, propaganda over truth. We were lazy. We did not study the issues, but relied on demagogues and vicious sound bites, lies corrected too late to matter. The course of the national debate reached new lows and I fear will motivate future debates. The nastier the blow, the better, we said with our votes. If it was said on TV, we stated, it must be true. There are no rules of civility, our choice proclaimed. Fact-checking doesn’t count, We the People decided.
Perhaps the losing side learned their lessons; perhaps not. Perhaps the losers will fight differently next time, with more attention to image and propaganda, sound bites, slander, vicious blows. Either way, we lose to this lowering of the bar.
After all, our great democratic experiment where the average citizen reads at a fifth-grade level, and mostly newspapers at that, has had a miraculous run for two hundred plus years. There was a time when we voted for national interest above personal, but that is clearly changing. As Alex de Tocqueville observed in the mid-nineteenth century:
A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship. The average age of the world’s greatest civilizations has been 200 years. (italics mine)
Ours is a great country. We have sacrificed much to protect our land, our freedoms, our faiths, and our families, and today, Veterans Day, we recalled the immeasurable debt we owe to those who have fought for America. To veterans and those who have died for this country we pay tribute and give our deepest thanks. We honor you. You sacrificed to keep us safe. And you continue to sacrifice to keep us safe.
Our ninety-three year old deacon wore his army jacket to church today. Another veteran wore a navy cap. I thought of my father who served as a chaplain in the South Pacific under General MacArthur in the Second World War, ministering to the sailors on board the USS Phoenix as kamikaze pilots dove into the waters around them. “The boys I cared for were so young, most of them only eighteen,” he would say, as though his own age of twenty-seven was so very old. But he didn’t say much else about those years, not wanting to relive them. Like many veterans he returned home glad to have protected his country, glad to marry and have children, glad to be alive, glad to be safe.
Some of these men returned whole, some returned maimed in soul and body, some didn’t return. We the People rebuilt our country, and we were not attacked again on our own soil until September 11, 2001. Today this date seems far away, and considering the vote on Tuesday, mostly forgotten.
Indeed, we ordinary folks soldier on here in our own land, as we fight the battle for literacy, for honesty, for law and order. And we must not take our privilege of voting lightly. If we do not have the time or desire or capacity to understand the issues at stake, to examine the candidates, then we must choose carefully those authorities who do, who share our views about life. We have another two years to make such choices, another four to listen to the authorities we have carefully chosen to learn from.
I recall the first time I voted, around age twenty. I thought I knew all about the Presidential candidates from the opinions of adults around me, teachers, parents, and the occasional news headline. I entered the voting booth and with increasing dismay saw all the other choices I needed to make. I felt sick. I had no idea who the candidates were, let alone what they would do or what they stood for. I didn’t know a bond from a proposition from a measure. I guessed.
I’m not proud of this – but I fear I am not alone. The world is a complicated place and we are largely uneducated voters, nor do we have the time or inclination to become educated.
One of the news columns spoke of how the election was like a game, everyone taking a side and rooting for a winner. A game? (How sports reflect life and certainly not vice-versa is a subject for another day).
This is not a game. This is real. Nine-eleven was real. The last two world wars were terribly real as was Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan. Iran is terribly real.
We the People will speak again, but perhaps not many more times if de Tocqueville is correct. Many of our thoughts and opinions already have been tranquilized if not euthanized, taken over and redirected by powerful cultural forces of image and propaganda. The next time that we voice our choice we must use an educated voice, one formed by those who know something – the economists, the generals, the clergy.
Perhaps, with God’s grace, we will form a more perfect union, as we announced ebulliently in 1787:
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America…
Perhaps, with God’s grace, we will after all provide for our future peoples, our Posterity in this remarkable and generous nation, our grandchildren and their children, and the great experiment will no longer be so threatened by how We the People have spoken.