Americans get the political leaders they deserve

Government of, by and for the people – we call democracy – requires that people invest some effort and maybe a little money in elections. This does not happen in the U.S.

One reason the founding fathers established the electoral college was that they did not trust the average voter to exercise his franchise wisely. And that was after limiting voting in most places to white, property owning males.

Thankfully, the U.S. has extended the privilege of voting to all citizens 18 and older who register to vote. However, that extension of the franchise has not diminished voter laziness.

Voter laziness cedes electoral power to monied interests. This is nothing new. For example, in times and places where the rule of law was less strictly enforced, voters sold their vote to the highest bidder (remember machine politics in New York City, Chicago and elsewhere).

The two most important ways that a citizen can invest in democracy are (1) to become informed about the issues and candidates and then (2) to vote. Voter participation in the U.S. is embarrassingly low.

Many people bemoan campaign fundraising as the single most important factor in determining which candidate wins. However, victory does not inherently have to go to the candidate who raises the most money. Using the internet candidates can inexpensively communicate their message and presence to voters who take the time to do some research before voting. Unfortunately, voters are often lazy, doing relatively little individual research. Their actions reveal a preference for TV ads and talking heads as their primary sources of information.

Furthermore, as the current Democrat contest for the party’s presidential nomination shows, the internet facilitates small donations financing campaigns. Small donations can collectively fund the candidate’s internet presence, travel, and other costs of engaging directly with votes.

Maybe Donald Trump’s greatest contribution to democracy will have been being a catalyst for voters taking their responsibility to be informed more seriously. Illustratively, Trump has failed to deliver on his economic promises to a majority of voters responsible for his election. The magnetism, sound and fury of his campaign events is a poor substitute for actual results yet provides Trump a plausible set of “alternative facts” when people are too lazy to keep him honest.

Conversely, many white evangelical voters support Trump despite disliking his rhetoric and behavior. Trump is delivering on his promises to take away a woman’s control over her body (i.e., to access birth control and to choose whether to abort a fetus), to restore freedom of religion (i.e., to restore Christianity to a privileged position in the public square), and to reduce excessive government regulation (e.g., eliminating many regulations intended to protect the environment and human well-being).

The number of Trump’s supporters has remained relatively constant. They are a minority of the population, even in states that Trump won in the last presidential election. GOP Senators voted against convicting Trump in his Senate trial in large measure because they believe that his offenses do not merit removal from office AND because most support many of his policies. Politicians generally believe that their reelection is in their constituents’ best interests. The silent majority of non-voters unintentionally reinforce that erroneous perception.

Engaged citizens who are informed voters can deny Trump a second term. What is yet to be determined is whether Trump will have sufficiently energized his opposition to deny him a second term.


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