As Chicagos mayoralty contest demonstrates, weve now reached a point where the electorate is too disgusted to engage meaningfully in choosing their leaders. That might explain the trouble were in.
16-Apr-19 What if you gave a party and nobody showed up? Chicago had a mayoral election pretty much like that a couple of weeks back. People still cant get over how disappointingly low the voter turnout was across the entire city.
They really shouldnt be that surprised its happening more and more as vast numbers of voters become increasingly disaffected and disconnected from the political system.
Chicagos latest is just another symptom of the whatever rot thats creeping steadily into so many parts of our lives. And, in many cases, the crooked pols have only themselves to blame for the lack of interest.
Chicagos recent runoff was officially declared momentous in advance, mainly because whichever of the two final candidates was elected would be the first female African-American mayor. The media tried its mightiest to build some continuing interest in the goings-on. But thats very hard to do after a lengthy initial campaign waged by an army of novice and negative candidates engaged in an unending nightly sludge fest of disgusting attack ads.
Even if you tried to pay attention to the issues and concerns being raised, it was difficult to tell some of the players positions apart. Talk about voter fatigue and spreading the peanut butter so thin that you basically couldnt tell one candidates stand on anything that mattered from the claims of half a dozen others.
And, not surprisingly, the first voting go-round turned out to have the votes split so many ways that there werent so much winners as there were the two least losers.
As you might imagine, when the electorate, such as it was, was asked to get back on the horse for another painful month of noise and name-calling, they basically tuned out. Thats how you come to have a runoff that was ignored by almost two-thirds of the eligible voters.
Numerically, it was a clean sweep for Lori Lightfoot (left) who, it was incessantly reported, convincingly won every single ward in the city and who promptly and personally claimed the results evidenced an overwhelming mandate for change.
But was it really a mandate or just a meh? It feels to me that what we witnessed as the dust starts to settle and some of the grim realities and signs of early pragmaticism and compromise start to appear is numerically a little bit like Yogi Berras old restaurant observation, Nobody goes there anymore. Its too crowded.
If people really cared about the outcome and were honestly passionate about changing things, wouldnt you think theyd take the tiny amount of time required to show up and vote?
As election evening wore on and the frightfully low poll numbers continued to roll in, it seemed like a Homecoming dance where almost everyone stayed home. And, apart from the mayoral contest, the few voters who did show up at the polls also showed the door to half a dozen or more of the most solid and experienced aldermen in the city.
Lots of change for changes sake and the kind of thing the hopped-up, short-term city residents will soon look back on and admit as they head to the suburbs or leave town seemed like a good idea in the heat of the moment. But it sucks when you must struggle to make things work in the aftermath.
Nothing prepares you for the first time and none of these political jobs are entry-level positions. But, in the new world, apparently anything from pouring drinks to dropping out and doing a walk-about qualifies you for higher office. Theres no such thing as paying your dues and learning a little bit about what youre doing before you jump right into the pool.
So, whats a fair message to draw from this most recent small-D democratic debacle? And how will the sad-but-spreading trend of massive voter apathy and indifference that makes for these mini-wins impact the elections in 2020?
Id say that we need to watch and try to interrupt three trends that really threaten our society and our democracy going forward...
We cant let the biggest blowhards blow everyone else away.
The media circus today is a frantic grab for our attention at any cost and puts a premium on everything but substance. Snappy sound bits. Snazzy outfits. Nasty nicknames. Extreme examples and gestures. Whatever sucker bait it takes to grab the latest news cycle and the spotlight. Notoriety trumps knowledge. The reporters cant help themselves and their news directors are even more pathetic panderers to everyones worst instincts. We cant stop it, but we can try to turn it off and ignore it.
We must insist on some minimum qualifications for these positions, even when the bar at the moment has never been lower.
Yes, Dorothy, anyone in the United States can grow up to be President, but how about if we, the voters and the represented, insist that the candidates at least grow up a little before, in their ignorance and arrogance, they decide to run for office.
Im not talking about legislation. Im talking about voter education and reasonable expectations. Bartenders, baseball players, newscasters, and your next-door neighbor could make the cut, but thats a low bar. Not qualified in any practical sense but equally not shy isnt a great gating standard.
Its not so much their ignorance thats offensive as their self-deluded and self-assured illusion of knowledge. They know whats best for us, even if they cant coherently express or articulate it, and their small but rabid bands of supporters make a complete hash of our primary system because we basically let anyone into the contest who wants to play.
Well have 15 or 20 Democratic candidates for President in 2020 any day now. More morons, more media, more bread and circuses.
We cant let social media continue to lower the bars of decency and decorum and simultaneously increase the levels of ignorance and anger.
Rarely has Lady Gaga said anything as prescient and pithy as her observation that social media is the toilet of the Internet and she couldnt be more on target. Our democratic systems ultimately depend on communication, conversation, and some common ground where at least we do others the courtesy of listening before we respond, challenge, and/or ignore them.
But today, no one listens to anything other than what they want to hear and whats being directed and filtered to them. In times past, there was a practical floor and some limits on the slime and slanders that could be spewed by trolls and other manipulators in part because they were known and sometimes held accountable instead of being able to hide behind the anonymity of their keyboards and screens and say whatever filth and falsehoods come to mind.
Thomas Jefferson said it best: A continual circulation of lies among those who are not much in the way of hearing them contradicted will in time pass for the truth.
If the greedy, indifferent, and willfully oblivious pigs who are running these social media platforms wont police them, and if they continue to pretend that theyre merely pipelines and conduits instead of publishers, pawns, and political pornographers, then we need our do-nothing politicians and toothless regulatory agencies to step in and financially punish them.
Thats exactly what the Europeans are doing. Because its increasingly clear that we cant and wont help ourselves and that nothing but money matters to these dirtbags. Left to themselves, the only direction that bad people and bad businesses go is downhill.
Its simply no longer good enough to say that the voters and non-voters get the politicians and leaders that they deserve. We need and deserve better, for ourselves and even more for the next several generations, but the necessary changes wont happen by themselves.