My daughter asked me to write about the US election and my thoughts on the politics. I think she secretly wants me to have no friends, because I’m pretty sure my thoughts would alienate everyone. I tried starting this post a handful of times and there are several drafts that will never see the light of day. The topic is difficult, not because the party platforms are that hard to understand, but because almost everyone seems ready to pounce on any thread that doesn’t support their view… like it’s everyone’s personal job to clean up their social media thread so that all opinions expressed on your wall are “correct” – whatever each person views as correct.
So, I’m going to skip that part and talk directly to you, dear daughters. Not that long ago, democracy became a thing. The idea that people could each have a say in who would govern is a novel concept that hasn’t existed for most of the 10,000+ years of the civilized human experience. But there’s a catch. This voting thing requires wisdom and an investment of time; time to learn what ideas each candidate supports, and time to debate and consider how those ideas will play out in the long run. So, I am going to give you some pointers that will help you be good voters.
1) Understand the role of government.
A democratic government is there to manage things; a democratic government never creates. In order for a government to “make” something, they require money from somewhere, and the only tool that government has to get money, is taxes. If a government ever talks about creating jobs or making a better healthcare system or anything else, it’s either talking about managing the economic environment so that those things are possible, or they are making promises that they are going to have to spend to create, and spending means taxes. That’s not always bad, but it needs to be understood… government manages, not creates.
Government needs to manage the laws we live by, the taxes they require, the security of the borders, the relationships that we have with other countries, the infrastructure (roads and electrical power plants, etc) that make everything work together, the environment, the policies about money that help promote profitable trade (making your paycheck worth something), policies around healthcare and making sure it’s reasonably fair to access, the environment, and most importantly, it needs to make sure that everything is fair, so that an honest person, giving an honest effort, has a chance to succeed.
It’s wildly complex and things are often out of balance. Sometimes the environment gets ignored while securing the borders receives too much attention. Then a new leader needs to get elected that will steer things back to balance… but then the environment might get too much attention and monetary policy might suffer. You always need to try to be aware of where things are at and do your best to understand what needs attention and what is out of balance.
2) Consider all sides.
The US system is really a 2 party system, but Canada, being much more inclusive, is a multi-party system. No matter how many candidates there are, they all have a published document somewhere that spells out what’s most important to them (called party platforms). Read them. I know it’s tediously boring, but this is the job. The alternative is to live under tyranny of one sort or another.
When you read these party platforms, make a list, a mental list or an actual list, of what points they each talk about. Then ask, “Why did Party A talk about these points and Party B didn’t mention them at all?” When they do talk about the same points, which way of dealing with things seems to make the most sense? Who seems to be addressing the issues that are out of balance (see point 1)?
3) There is nothing new under the sun.
“There is nothing new under the sun”. When running a campaign, often people are unhappy because they feel like things are out of balance (see point 1) and they want “change”. Nobody ever seems to think that the way to fix things is to do them the old way, so politicians talk about doing things “new”. But if you look closely, whatever challenges we face have been faced countless times before. And they have been faced in many different ways before. And sometimes they are handled successfully and sometimes it’s complete failure.
For example, there is talk of raising taxes on the rich. It’s been considered before. It’s been done before. What was the outcome? The history and analysis is easy enough to find. Based on what you find, is it a good idea or a bad idea? But you can count on this, there is nothing new under the sun. Whatever happened the last time, will happen this time.
To this end, it really pays to take a little education that you probably didn’t get in high school. This article has some good stuff to say about books to read and thoughts on getting educated (https://www.facebook.com/TheRealMikeRowe/posts/1254500967893377).
Feel free to use the media for some of this info, but understand that “news” stations are out to make a profit and so they need a consistent audience. This means that they have to say things that “attract” their audience. Actual information is edited or “spun” or omitted so as not to offend the loyal audience, so by nature of the current system, it’s biased. Don’t blame the media, they are doing their job. Just understand that for every news source that is attracting the people that would vote for Party A, there is a news outlet that is attracting the people that would vote for Party B. As infuriating as it is, listen to them all. When it comes to being educated to vote, this is the job.
4) Put the country first.
A lot of politicians get elected promising things to you, personally. You’ll get more money from the government (which were taken from taxes, see point 1). You’ll get free education. You’ll get free healthcare. You’ll get your own llama. Whatever they are promising, don’t go to the voting booth being selfish. Go to the voting booth to keep things in balance, for the long-term good of the country. If the government gives everyone free money, it will seem amazing for a moment… but too much money in circulation will create inflation. Inflation will make it so that all that money put together won’t buy a loaf of bread.
I have special needs boys and it might seem good to vote for the candidate that promises the best in special education. But if that comes at the cost of our economy, and my boys grow up to a country living in destitute poverty, then did I really serve their needs in the long-run???
I’ve told the story before of fathers that left their homes to build a railroad so that their children would have a better future. Most of those fathers never returned home, and died for their cause. As awful and sacrificial as that might seem… the continent did quickly benefit from the generosity and did become quite prosperous for their children. You probably don’t ever have to consider that level of sacrifice, but you do need to have that kind of thinking when you vote.
5) Demonstrate your values.
After you’ve looked at all the options and decided who you want to vote for, feel free to engage in conversation about it. If you try to have that conversation on social media, it will seem like the world has gone mad… it hasn’t. But if you believe that everyone should have the right to free speech, then let others speak freely. If you believe that everyone should be treated with respect, then treat everyone with respect.
In every area, don’t wait for a politician to make the difference you want to see. If you think good monetary policy is important, then manage your money properly. If you think that there needs to be better security of our borders, then support, encourage and thank people doing that job… maybe even sign up to serve. If you see that there is a need to help the poorer in our community, for sure make that something to consider when you vote, but get out there and help the poor.
In the end, it’s all about how our society is moving forward. You will get shouted down a lot when you try to discuss this stuff. But your actions will never get shouted down. And maybe, just maybe, someone will follow your example and the world will be a better place after all.