by Shaelyn Saraceni
Welcome to America! Land of the divided and tribal. We may have freedom, but freedom comes with costs.
I was inspired to write this piece after having to take a political science class and being assigned a vague prompt in my English class, so this is an adaption of the essay I wrote to incorporate my knowledge from both.
The most current elections, which placed Donald Trump in office as the forty-fifth president of the United States, brought out extreme divisiveness in the American people. More than a few people, including myself, felt conflicted about picking—yet pressured to pick—a side. Many agree that the two main party candidate choices Americans were left to vote for were downright pathetic. There are, of course, those die hard Clinton or Trump fans. However, those who did not give into the tribal behavior of the masses were told their voices did not matter and did not count. Tribalism is defined by Merriam-Webster Dictionary as “strong in-group loyalty.” Pick a side, any side, as long as it is not the wrong side. Easier said than done. Democrat, Republican, liberal, conservative, red, blue, these terms can define and divide people. These tribalistic ways of thinking are definitely not what make America great. To fix America's problems, it is vital that we—as the people—stand united as one. Education is the first step in the right direction. Bipartisan is a useless term, so Americans must be anti-partisan to solve the complications of the US government. Livelihoods are at stake.
Partisanship and tribalism are mutually inclusive; for where there is one, there is the other. Many people get pulled or pushed into the tribalistic mindset that two-party politics breeds. People root for their sports teams similarly to how they root for their political party. Hence, getting swept up in the crowd becomes easy. Instead of voting on things one believes in, one follows the rules, values, and laws that their party advocates. Kenneth Mulligan analyzes this well in his psychological study, where he states, “Divided government is a common feature of American politics at both the national and state levels. Scholars agree that the root of divided party control lies in split-ticket voting.” This type of voting leads to the people serving the political party instead of the political party serving the people. Civil disagreements can easily become civil wars if given too much attention. Fear is effortlessly instilled into people who have partisan mindsets. Jean-Jacques Rousseau proclaims, “War then is a relation, not between man and man, but between State and State, and individuals are enemies only accidentally, not as men, nor even as citizens” in his analytical piece, “The Origin of Civil Society.” Rousseau’s words still ring true, even though he lived in the 1700s. People are not natural enemies as much as the States need them to be. Power goes to people’s heads, and—in order to stay in power—government officials need money and masses. Thus, they try to lead and gather masses by tapping into their tribalistic mindsets. Money hungry tyrants will run the US government if people allow partisanship and tribalistic mindsets to divide them. In “Democracy and Oligarchy,” Aristotle asserts, “The decrees of the demos correspond to the edicts of the tyrant; and the demagogue is to the one what the flatterer is to the other. Both have great power;—the flatterer with the tyrant, the demagogue with democracies of the kind which we are describing.” Like Rousseau, Aristotle’s statements also continue to prevail through the ages. Even in 300 BC, he accurately analyzes democracy. Government officials attempt to stay in power by flattering or scaring people into voting for them. They make outrageous claims, which rarely come to pass after being placed in office. Division keeps people busy on the streets instead of dealing with the important issues placed in their hands. Blind and divided, democracy can fade into oligarchy.
To divide and conquer is a well known battle tactic; unfortunately, the once United States have become divided. As a nation, division will force its people to conquer themselves. There is another word for this: civil war. The American people have created war with others by accepting the propaganda that these others are “the enemy.” In Benazir Bhutto's “Islam and Democracy,” she describes the perception of the Islamic nations (and Islam in general for some) to Americans in the following:
To the extent that international support for tyrannies within Islamic states has resulted in the hostility of the people of these countries to the West—and cynicism about the West’s true commitment to democracy and human rights—some might say that the West has unintentionally created its own Frankenstein monster.
The citizens of the United States are beginning to act this way now with each other. “They are the enemy,” “Their voice doesn’t matter,” and “They are wrong, we are right” are starting to become common conversations I hear in the news, in college, and in life in general. Division will distract from what is really important: protecting our rights and making our nation flourish. This can become difficult to achieve since the American government encompasses republican and democratic values and laws. I do not mean democrat and republican as in the way of political parties, but in the way the government runs and its forms. Aristotle contends, “For polity or constitutional government may be described generally as a fusion of oligarchy and democracy; but the term is usually applied to those forms of government which incline toward democracy, and the term aristocracy to those which incline toward oligarchy . . .” The US government is more democratic than oligarchical in many ways, but money does run the government (like oligarchy) because the government officials needs money to run. Lobbyists and money hungry organizations will pay what it takes to get their interests passed first. Our government is constitutional, but can only do so much without the people of its democracy taking charge.
Taking back power for the people begins with the individual caring about the power being given. The Preamble to the Constitution addresses people’s greatest cares and concerns for how their nation should deal with and treat them:
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, 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.
If people care about maintaining their unalienable rights, they must stay involved in the voting process. The right to vote relinquishes power from the hands of the government to the hands of the people it governs. According to the United States Elections Project, only about 58% of eligible California voters made it to the poles for the 2016 elections. There is a multitude of people who simply did not vote, even though they were registered. Unfortunately, California was not the only State to see low voter turnout. Hence, many Americans do not care all that much about their national responsibility. In his piece, “Government by Democracy in America,” Alexis de Tocqueville discusses, “It is a permanent feature of the present day that the most outstanding men in the United States are rarely summoned to public office and one is forced to acknowledge that things have been like that as democracy has gone beyond its previous limits.” The problem with America is not only that its people do not vote but also that its smartest citizens do not run for office. Politics is a dirty game to play, and the wise tend to avoid it. Money tends to run the American government, which can corrupt its politicians. As a result, politicians become liars and people pleasers. This is not a good trait because they should advocate to protect the citizens’ best interests, not the corporation’s wants. “But the form of government is a democracy when the free, who are also poor and majority, govern, and an oligarchy when the rich and the noble govern, they being at the same time few in number,” says Aristotle. Though the USA is a model for democratic government, it is far from perfect. The upper class citizens and corporations have their interests looked out for a good amount. The representative (also known as republican) democracy that exists in America is supposed to give majority rule while protecting the rights of the minority from the tyranny of the majority. The government cannot give the majority what they want if they do not vote. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the people to lead the government in the direction they want—as a democracy should be.
Saying that voting is a duty may sound taboo, but it could not be truer. Those who opt not to vote are choosing to leave their rights in the hands of others. Educating oneself about the issues being voted on has never been more important. Do not just watch the candidate speeches or try to read the confusing wording written for lawyers on the ballot packets, but dig for information and research as unbiasedly as possible. Additionally, people who do vote, yet get sucked into partisanship, are not helping themselves or society because they are blinded by their party. Biased voting can make one lose good judgment. Political parties were created to work for the people, not the other way around. It is vital for US citizens to stay informed about issues and politicians without getting sucked into tribal arguments about which party is better. Our future—as a nation—is in the hands of every individual person who decides to or to not vote. Change begins with you.
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