In the wake of Voldemort's election, there's been plenty of blame-storming.
Some people want to blame Hillary Clinton, and anyone who supported her in the Democratic primary, because they're convinced that if Bernie Sanders had been the Democratic candidate, he could have beaten Voldemort. And maybe he would have, we'll never know.
Some people are blaming President Obama, and saying that if he had been "more moderate", people wouldn't have been chomping at the bit to "over-correct" and vote Republican.
Some people are blaming Jill Stein and other third party candidates, and the people who voted for them.
Some people are blaming Republican legislation designed to prevent minorities and the poor from voting (and I don't disagree with them). Some people are blaming the media (and I completely agree with them). A lot of people are blaming Russia, and they have the evidence to prove it. Some people are blaming Julian Assange.
But I have my own theory: Student government is to blame. Student government helped get us into this mess.
Student government is meant to teach students about government and civic responsibility. This is what student government actually teaches kids:
- Government doesn't matter, and nothing they do is important.
- Anyone who runs for office is a brown-nosing resume-packer.
- The most popular candidate always wins.
- Being unqualified doesn't matter.
- If you elect the class clown, the only consequence is that assemblies become more fun.
- The teachers will step in if the president does a terrible job.
- The principal, school district, and parents won't let the school shut down or descend into chaos.
These lessons, consciously or unconsciously, form the basis of our political beliefs for the rest of our lives. And, they benefit the 1%, who don't want you to pay attention to politics or show up at the polls. The rich have a vested interest in convincing you that politics are hopelessly corrupt, and the laws they make are irrelevant. Your apathy is their best defense.
Some people don't vote because they don't live in swing states, and they are certain their vote won't make a difference.
Some people don't vote because of a lack of access - they can't get the time off from work, they can't get someone to watch their kids while they wait in line for hours at the polls, they don't have a state-issued ID card, etc.
Some people don't vote because they hate both candidates equally, and they are unable to separate the candidate from their platform. (I could write a whole other column about this problem, but I don't want to digress.)
And some people believe that no matter who represents them, it will make no difference in their day-to-day lives.
I was talking to my father recently about that very topic. He has a friend who hated President Obama* and was thrilled about Voldemort getting elected. He asked his friend, "How did Obama's presidency impact you negatively?" His friend had lots of responses, but ultimately had to admit that the President hadn't actually impacted his daily life.
I pointed out that if Obama had not managed to pass the Affordable Care Act, I wouldn't have health insurance. Being able to afford to treat my various pre-existing conditions has had a tremendously positive impact on my life. My father pointed out that what is known as "Obamacare" very closely resembles legislation that Republicans had put forth independently, and legislation that Mitt Romney successfully implemented in his own state. He also pointed out that the ACA was not made law in order to help people like me. The ACA became law because lobbyists for corporate health providers wanted it. "If anything the President - or any politician - did happened to benefit you, it was by accident."
My father is not alone in his cynicism.
I've thought about it a lot, and despite how furious I was during the Bush years, it's hard for me to come up with any ways that his actions affected me directly on a personal level. I was outraged over the Iraq war, but I didn't actually know anyone who was sent to Iraq. I didn't lose a family member or friend to the unjust war. I was enraged over what was happening to reproductive rights in South Dakota and other red states, but I lived in a blue state. My heart bled for those affected by anti-choice rhetoric, but I was never in danger of not being able to afford my birth control pills. I was vocal about the drug war, private prisons, racial profiling, and a million other issues that never affected me directly because I was a white woman living in blue states. I was never in any danger of being stopped and frisked. Bush bungled Katrina, and I cried for everyone affected - but I wasn't one of them. Sexism affects me on a personal level, but sexism exists worldwide no matter who's President. President Bush filled me with rage, President Obama inspired me, but the most you could say is that my taxes supported things I opposed.
Maybe part of the reason no one thinks it matters who the SCROTUS is, is that it takes so long for the consequences of politician's actions to become apparent. Four years, or eight years, is not always enough time for the country to reap what a political administration sows. We intererfered in the Middle East for half a century before those chickens came home to roost. We've been warned for decades about global warming, but Republicans continue to claim it's a hoax, even as the evidence mounts and the effects are felt in catastrophic natural disasters. When Congress de-funds public education today, it takes years for those under-educated children to become tomorrow's criminals. When Congress repeals anti-pollution laws, it takes years for affected communities to notice poisoned water, higher rates of cancer, and children with birth defects. When Congress repeals laws designed to prevent predatory lending, it takes years for another housing crisis and bank crisis to manifest. When the 1% benefits from the short-term effects, the rest of us suffer in the long-term.
It's no surprise that people think, "The President is just one person. How much can one person really accomplish?" They forget that the President appoints and hires an army of people who share his personal and/or party platform, to act on his, or the party's, behalf. Bush is responsible for the war-profiteering of Karl Rove, and everyone he hired. Voldemort is responsible for the actions of his cabinet of neo-Nazis and fascists. And, because he publicly advocated violence, racism, xenophobia, sexism, sexual assault, and mocking the disabled, he is responsible for an epidemic of bullying and a gigantic spike in hate crimes.
I will go one step further, and say that he is personally responsible for every single hate crime that has been committed in his name. He told "the second amendment people" to assassinate Hillary Clinton. He told us that Mexicans were criminals. He told us that refugees were terrorists. He told a generation of men, "Grab 'em by the pussy." And the fact that he went on to be elected President told every person watching that they could behave the same way, and get away with it.
Calls to suicide hotlines skyrocketed after the election results were announced, and it's easy to see why.
So, unlike student elections, when we'd vote for the hilarious anarchist, and somehow the candy would still be sold, the band would still get new uniforms, and someone would make sure there'd still be a class trip and a class gift and a prom, American elections actually matter. Here are some of the ways this administration could very much impact my life and destroy my standard of living:
- 45's anti-immigrant policy isn't just going to plunge the country into debt, it's going to cause major disruption in the food industry. Which means we'll soon be spending more money on lower-quality food. For people who live paycheck-to-paycheck, more money spent at the grocery store means less money spent on everything else, from rent to clothes to car maintenance.
- If the NEA is defunded, the not-for-profit I work for may have to cut staff or shut down entirely, and I could lose my job, and that would certainly affect me.
- If the ACA is repealed and I'm unable to get health insurance because of my pre-existing conditions, I will be unable to pay my medical bills, and that will affect me. It could, potentially, shorten my life considerably.
But none of this changes the fact that the actions of the government matter, even when they don't affect us personally. Even if you aren't a drug addict, you should still want drug addicts to receive treatment instead of jail time (if only because it's cheaper). Even if you don't have children, you should still want all children to have homes to live in, food to eat, and access to quality public education. Even if you are white, you should still want to end racism. Even if you're not an immigrant, you should still want a sensible immigration policy that acknowledges the contributions of immigrants. Even if you don't live in a state with voter-suppression laws, you should want every citizen to be able to exercise their right to vote - even if they might not vote the way you want them to. Even if you don't read the New York Times, you should still want them to be present in the White House press briefings. Even if you're a man, you should want women to be treated with respect. You should want them to have equal pay, you should want them to be able to defend themselves from domestic violence, and you should want them to be able to walk alone at night without fear of assault. Even if you've never been raped, you should want to see rapists prosecuted and convicted. Even if you're not Jewish, you should still be upset when white supremacists burn down a synagogue. Caring about people other than yourself and those in your immediate social circle is what makes us human. Compassion for strangers is the basis of human decency. To care only about yourself is the myopic worldview of the barbarian.
Politics is not student government. No teachers or administrators are going to step in and make sure America survives. (The closest analogous entity is the judicial branch, which the Republican administration is already seeking to undermine and eliminate.) We haven't, as the cynics among us would believe, chosen someone to rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic. We elected someone who will either choose the captain who steers our ship into the iceberg, or very possibly, insist on doing it himself.
And we're the only ones who can turn this ship around.
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* I asked him, "Why?!?" and he said, "Why not?!?" and I thought, "Because you shouldn't be friends with racists!" But if I said that, my father would've said that a person can hate Obama without being a racist, and I would've said, "Really? I'm not sure about that..." and it would be an entirely different discussion.