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American Democracy Will Survive the Election
It’s the social fabric we need to worry about.
Another interminable election season is finally over. After billions of dollars burned by the two political parties to manipulate voters into hating one side more than the other, everyone in politics has emerged equally despised. As YouGov trend data shows, majorities of American voters hold unfavorable views of both parties in Congress, nearly all congressional leaders, the current president and vice president, and the former president—as they have for years.
American politics, the great leveler.
Politics is the only business where more and more gets produced every year with almost no positive outcomes in terms of brand image or approval. The more the parties and candidates talk, the less the voters like them.
But since the government is self-replenishing and taxpayer-funded, job performance and ideas don’t particularly matter. There’s always another election to refill the coffers for nonsense negative ads that essentially tell voters: “I have absolutely no idea what to do about the biggest challenges facing America. But don’t vote for that guy—he's an extremist.”
Democrats have spent the entire election cycle ignoring the priorities of voters on inflation and crime while deflecting blame onto anyone but their own party officials who have overseen the government for the past two years. “Inflation, it’s temporary. Crime, what crime? MAGA!” The party has spent ten times as much money on ads about abortion as it has on ads focused on inflation. Likewise, Biden and Democrats authorized several trillion dollars in new federal spending and student debt forgiveness over an 18-month period, and have exactly—nothing—to show for it politically. Eight percent inflation wiped away any positive feelings voters may have felt about these actions and nonstop focus on culture war issues and “semi-fascism” did not distract voters from this economic pain.
“Inattentiveness to working-class concerns,” as Ruy Teixeira describes it, is a losing electoral strategy.
Republicans in turn have spent the entire election cycle crapping about inflation and crime without offering a single realistic idea to confront either problem. “Tax cuts for rich people should lower inflation. Look at all that Democrat-city crime. Biden!” Without changing a thing about their deeply unpopular party and policy agenda, Republicans will likely reap the benefits of voter anger at 40-year high inflation and rising crime across the country.
But with Trump threatening to run for president again, and a host of distractions being prepared by congressional leaders should they gain power, public good will towards Republicans won’t last long.
Meanwhile, up in Baltimore where I live, we’ve had 31,068 total crimes over the past year, including: 5600 aggravated assaults, 3000 robberies, 728 shootings, 683 carjackings, 338 homicides, and countless other acts of arson, auto theft, burglary, and larceny. A lot of these violent crimes occurred in areas of the city that are chronically poor and underdeveloped.
Yet the Republican governor and the Democratic leaders of Baltimore have been unable or unwilling to do much of anything about it. And despite all the national chatter about crime, we rarely hear any concrete proposals coming from the federal government to help local law enforcement clear the streets of criminals, drugs, and guns; provide more resources to investigate crimes and help prosecutors and courts clear cases; assist the poorest areas of the city; and help with business redevelopment, better schools, and job creation. The American Rescue Plan sent $641 million dollars to Baltimore, which was good. But city residents would be hard pressed to say what exactly these funds did and what, if any, impact this stimulus money has had post-pandemic.
This is just one city in a vast nation. Other cities have similar challenges while smaller towns and rural areas have their own problems with intergenerational poverty, drugs, crime, and a lack of economic opportunity. Millions of people across the country—almost one third of Americans—continue to face major troubles making ends meet as their wages fail to keep up with rising prices and the high cost of living.
To the politicians and the parties, however, these social and economic difficulties are mere backdrops for attack ads rather than genuine issues worthy of serious national consideration and policymaking.
Our political leaders keep telling us that democracy is on the ballot.
Although there are real concerns about the state of our democracy, the American political system will survive. Government institutions may be weakened but they are not broken. The rule of law isn’t going away. Our military and national defenses are strong. People are still free to vote, speak their mind, protest, and petition the government. We’ll keep having elections and the parties will keep spending billions of dollars every cycle to get Americans to hate one another and their government even more than they do now. Some people will pay attention to politics and many others will tune out. Congressional power will likely change hands as it does in nearly every presidential term with unified party control, and it won’t be the end of the world.
It’s the social fabric we really need to worry about. In the absence of any consensus views about governing—and more sustained cooperation between the political parties—the American people will continue to suffer as the country’s biggest problems go unaddressed while the political class fights its self-absorbed and inconsequential culture wars.
Americans are a hearty and resilient bunch. But people can only take so much stress and anxiety over personal finances and safety before they break. Citizens need the government and the political parties to take their concerns seriously, grow up, and serve the country better.
Maybe by the next election. One can always hope.