An election in a well-functioning representative democracy is as much a reflection of the electorate as it is a selection of leadership or determinations of ballot issues. The votes we cast are a mirror of us — our optimism or pessimism, our perceptions and insights, our beliefs and what we reject, what we hope for and what we despair. As this Election Day approaches, it is more remarkable than usual just how much our votes will reveal about our ability to accept truth and recognize wishful thinking, to act rationally based on fact.
We voters are predictable suckers for undeliverable promises, for casting ballots in favor of candidates who make the most attractive campaign pledges regardless of the capacity to fulfill them. Election after election, politicians claim that they have the secret to cutting our taxes while simultaneously maintaining or even improving government services. On the national level, we are told of coming plans for better health care at less cost. Those seeking seats in the Unicameral insist that if they are elected, pain-free property tax relief will finally be achieved. Locally, politicians are less expansive in pledging the impossible, but still we hear plenty about how things are going to get much better and very little about the cost of making improvement.
That there is so little discussion of the sacrifices required to attain society’s goals is a reflection of voters’ disdain of that reality. Truths are tough. Better or more government services cost more money, which requires collection of more taxes. Medical treatment for pre-existing conditions is expensive. Property tax relief in Nebraska will not be achieved without increasing state sales or income tax or both. And North Platte’s recreation center is not going to be replaced or refurbished out of the blue sky.
Until we become more willing to deal responsibly with the truth that desired improvements require prioritizing projects and generating necessary revenue, we voters will continue to be the Charlie Brown to elected officials’ Lucy pulling the ball away just as the leg swings through the mirage of a kick.
In search of 50% plus one vote, some candidates seek to divide rather than unite us. Express or implied suggestions that Americans separate along racial, partisan, religious, geographic, wealth, cultural, ethnic or other similar lines are nothing less than despicable. But George Wallace, running on the vile theme of “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever” won five states in the 1968 race for president of the United States. Politicians focused on dividing people into categories of “us” and “them” in pursuit of election ought to be summarily rejected. That this hateful tactic is so much in use in 2020 is alarming more for what it says about us voters than it is illuminating about the candidates who use it. Sadly, we have recently proved ourselves susceptible to divisive campaign rhetoric, a reflection we will do well to alter.
Rallying citizens around causes founded upon our nation’s highest ideals has always been the aim of our finest leaders. Accepting responsibility for mistakes and correcting course based on what has been learned are characteristics shared by our best. Relying upon truth, science and those with subject-matter expertise leads to good outcomes. Insisting that actions be consistent with and in service of the self-evident truth that all men and women are created equal is a hallmark of excellence, strength and success among U.S. historical figures. Conversely, those who insist upon creating scapegoats, making decisions based on opinion rather than fact and shared principles, and dividing rather than uniting people are remembered as pathetic, small and loathsome, if they are remembered at all.
Our nation, our state and our community have progressed steadily but not constantly. Most steps have been forward, but without doubt some have been sideways or even backward. As we cast our ballots, we make irretrievable decisions about what we want for our society now and into the future. But mostly our votes reflect who we are and what we hold dear. Are we people who really believe that we are all created equal? That individual sacrifice is justified and necessary in order to produce common good? That hard facts and genuine truths are the bedrock of sound decision-making? That coming together in common cause consistent with liberty and justice is necessary if our representative democracy is to thrive? That honor, integrity, honesty, decency and humility are desired characteristics in our leaders and citizens?
Forward, sideways or backward — we soon will reveal.
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