Note: This article will appear in the upcoming Fall 2016 issue of The MIT Et Spiritus. Follow us on Facebook for more updates!
The 2016 US Presidential Election is over. It was an election like no other, producing so many unprecedented storylines that none of us could keep our eyes away from. It feels like forever ago, but the primary season saw a record percentage of voters on the Republican side and the second highest percentage on the Democratic side participating. In the general election, a all-time high of 84 million people watched the first debate from their homes. And yet, it was one of the most depressing. Just a week before the election, a NYT/CBS poll found that 82% of voters had become more disgusted by American politics this campaign, compared to 13% who had become more excited.
Distracted by this stultifying mix of comedy and disaster voyeurism, we largely missed out on the opportunity to discuss and debate the best role of government in the 21st Century.1 And that’s a conversation we desperately need to have, because the one thing we can all agree on is that Washington isn’t working. Faced with a president-elect who has taken a wide variety of positions on nearly every issue, we need to ask ourselves: How should he actually govern?
As we return to this age-old question, we need to resist the temptation to fall back into our usual partisan ruts. For instance, in economics, we’ve had decades of Republicans arguing that we need to lower taxes and reduce regulation to spur economic growth, while Democrats argue that we need higher taxes on the rich and more regulation to restrain corporations and distribute economic benefits more widely. Repeating the same debate every cycle has made US politics more and more polarized, especially at the national level.
No, we all need to take a deep breath, step back from the battles and come together to think about the big picture. What led us here? What has changed about our country since whenever our history classes left off? What are the new challenges we face in the 21st Century? And what does God have to say about all of this? In the end, I hope we can all start to see politics as much more than stand-up comedy or partisan tug-of-war. At its root, politics is not even really about addressing the latest national controversy or advancing a particular agenda, but about bringing us together as citizens to do what we can’t do on our own. We might not think of it that way, but our involvement in many different types of communities, from churches to frats, small groups to volunteering, forms the building blocks of our public life. If we want to solve the problems we face in our politics, that’s where we should start.
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