Putting politics before people
Which came first — the chicken or the egg? Is politics inherently corrupt, or have we allowed it to become corrupt?
The word politics comes from the work of Aristotle who gave the name “polity” to what he considered the highest form of government, constitutional government. The Greek name for city is polis, or political community. The ancient Greeks developed an enlightened civilization, a democratic form of government, and a society that flourished.
The founders of our country were followers of the Greek philosophy of liberty, equality and representation by and for the citizens. They were paying taxes to a monarch who gave them no say in their governing and the oppression of the British rule became too much.
The revolution resulted in a government based on the Greek principles of citizen participation.
Have we abdicated our responsibility as citizens and allowed our current government to treat us like the colonists were treated by King George? Where they had to resort to a war, we are more fortunate in that we already have in place the support of a constitutional democracy. The constitution structures our government to distribute power and prevent a monarchy. Our president does not respect or obey the constitution.
Why are we apathetic and allowing this abuse? Our forefathers sacrificed for it. They gave us the tools to build a great nation, but the tools have to be used properly. We are holding a rope, and we can’t let go of it, especially now. We have seen in just the last century how a democratic republic can slide into tyranny.
It is built into our nature for some reason to think of bad things happening somewhere else, and to ignore the teachings of history. It is also a trait in the development of mankind to aspire to ever higher levels of greatness in knowledge, civility, empathy, tolerance, and globalism instead of tribalism. That is why history is so important, it gives us lessons in where we have improved and where we have fallen backwards.
Politicians have shaped our government into what it is now and the process didn’t happen overnight. We complain that it is not working for us, but we elected them to represent us. Why did we choose them?
If it has come to the point where our government officials only serve their own self-interests and not that of their constituents, why did we give them that opportunity? Maybe we were too busy to take the time to learn about them and just voted for any of many superficial reasons. Maybe we couldn’t be bothered to even vote? Women had to fight for the right to vote; it’s only been 100 years. Many black and minority communities are still fighting against voter suppression for their ability to vote. And yet, we take our responsibility lightly.
That brings us to: Which came first, media or public opinion? Does public opinion drive media bias, or does the media mold public opinion? Since we gather our impressions of our officials through our selective consumption of media sources, we base our votes on what we hear, see, and read in the media.
How reliable is our information? Can we trust what we are being told? The pure intention of news is to inform, just as the pure intention of democratic government is to serve the needs of its citizens. All media companies are businesses. They exist because there is a market for them. If they don’t attract subscribers or viewers they can’t make money. There are people who enjoy the sensationalism of tabloids and extreme conspiracy and propaganda talk shows, so those outlets cater to them. Some people are drawn to them because of preconceived opinions but others are subsequently changed by them. Multi-billionaires have been able to exert their influence into many of the media outlets, bending them toward their agendas.
There is a wide range in the percentage of truth that is told in our news sources now, we must be very discerning and willing to investigate. Truth usually comes in the simplest form. The more assumptions you have to make, the farther from the probable truth you go. This is the Occam’s Razor, named after 14th century William of Occam, but a rule of thumb used by scientists and philosophers going back to Aristotle.
Much of the far-right media nowadays promotes convoluted conspiracy theories whose sensationalism some people find fascinating and entertaining. Why be bored with straight facts, when we can be entertained? The population of Rome was kept content with that, an obvious example. However, the corruption and inhumanity of the coliseum helped cause Rome to implode.
No, we are not that bad. Our innate denial mechanism tells us it won’t happen here. But, then how are we being convinced to act against our own interests?
For instance, we are being told that democrats are bad because they all want to give away everything for free. Take one of the most progressive democrats, Bernie Sanders. If Bernie says he is a democratic socialist, that doesn’t mean that he wants to take our pay that we earned in the shop or behind the retail counter and give it away to someone else.
Social Security is literally what it says it is. Hard workers are given a secure way to retire. Medicare helps ensure that those of us who have worked to build a business won’t lose it if a serious illness befalls us.
These are social safety nets that we have become accustomed to and benefit from that are under threat from the current republican party. Social programs provide for the basic needs of citizens so that all have an opportunity to work toward their American dream, that is all that it is. We don’t have to fear what we have worked for being taken away because our tax money may go to help someone else get started with a business grant or education cost reduction rather than loading the already overflowing pockets of billionaires — but, we do have to fear being put out of a job or out of business by those rich and powerful who, with their influence and lack of government restrictions, can do just that. Once oligarchy is established, there will be no upward mobility. The American dream will become a nightmare.
If we have already created a Frankenstein monster, then we must take responsibility for it. The monster, once given life, has only the instinct to survive and will do what is necessary including turning its back on its creators.
Now is definitely not the time to ignore the monster and hope it goes away by itself, it won’t. The founders of our nation gave us the tools and the history, we have the ability to pay attention, to reason, to act responsibly and in the best interest of each and every citizen of this polis of ours.
We must know who we are voting for, why we vote, and know which comes first — the citizen or the politician.
Susan Bigler is a Sheridan resident. Send comments to email@example.com