There are a few reasons I blame myself for America moving into the Trump era. First and foremost, other than a short series of blogs I managed to get into The Huffington Post, I didn’t do much to warn people of the impending possibility of America completely embracing an oligarchy as its preferred method of government. Second, although I agreed with so much of what he was saying, other than a few shared updates, I didn’t fully back Bernie Sanders when I had the chance. Third, I didn’t run myself.
After my run for Sarasota County Commissioner, when people would ask if I would ever run again, I realized that the next race I would be eligible for was the spot that Obama is about to hand off to Trump. I really did consider it as a possibility, but knew that I would most likely run as a write-in candidate, and had already personally witnessed what a long shot that was. Plus, as the election unfolded, I didn’t want to detract from Bernie’s campaign.
Of course, there was also the realization that I had already declared my independence from the United States government and celebrated my sovereignty by founding the Autonomous Nation of Stevetopia, and my opinion of the State, as it is with the Church, would probably not help make me a very good president. Plus, I didn’t truly want the job, and while watching Barack Obama’s farewell address, I realized he’d be a really tough act to follow.
Although I think there’s a good chance I would make a better president than Mr. Trump, I think there are a number of things I can do even better, things that I have often neglected as I have circumnavigated the perimeters of my own ego these last several years. However, as Obama’s address reminded me of the importance of citizenry and how necessary it is in order for democracy to work, a bit of a fire started burning in me, and I realized that although I may not be able to bungle the job of president, my role as a citizen is much more profound, and considering the state of our government, it truly is more integral to democracy than the seat in which Trump will soon be sitting.
“In his own farewell address,” Obama said, “George Washington wrote that self-government is the underpinning of our safety, prosperity, and liberty, but ‘from different causes and from different quarters much pains will be taken…to weaken in your minds the conviction of this truth;’ that we should preserve it with ‘jealous anxiety;’ that we should reject ‘the first dawning of every attempt to alienate any portion of our country from the rest or to enfeeble the sacred ties’ that make us one.” Unfortunately, those alienations dawned at the end of Washington’s second term, when the two-party system was enacted, despite the warning in his farewell address that though political parties “may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.”
This back and forth game of Republicans and Democrats we’ve suffered through so gloriously, although it has created collateral opportunities through competition, has weakened those “sacred ties that make us one” for the last two centuries, and has allowed “our political dialogue to become so corrosive that people of good character are turned off from public service,” as Obama said, “so coarse with rancor that Americans with whom we disagree are not just misguided, but somehow malevolent.” Over the course of these last two centuries, our preoccupation with being on a winning team has fooled us into sacrificing self-government for oligarchy, further separating ourselves from one another as those who would subvert power and usurp the reins of our government, those whom our first president warned us about, indeed made his prophecy come true.
Yet there is still hope.
As I watched Obama’s farewell address, I couldn’t help but think how far America has come, not only in the near 240 years it has operated with a republican government, but also for the centuries before that. Who would have ever thought that in a country founded by slave owners on a continent named for a slave trader, we would one day have an African-American president? It seems America has come full circle, and it will be interesting to see what it becomes from here.
Personally, I’m not too interested in defining “some of us as more American than others,” as Obama feared, because that title means so many different things that it has often lost meaning for me. As I’ve studied the history available to me, I’ve found nothing of significant virtue in Amerigo Vespucci, the self-promoting sailor, merchant, and slave trader after whom these two continents, and thus our government was named. While I do still respect and honor the principles of life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, freedom, and innovation that the word “America” often represents, considering the themes of violence, consumerism, sexual depravity, and greed that also accompany it, I wouldn’t dismiss the idea of rebranding as we upgrade a few things.
While I haven’t completely written off “the whole system as inevitably corrupt,” as Obama feared, I do agree with Professors Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page of Princeton and Northwestern University, respectively, that the US government has become an oligarchy and doesn’t actually work as a democracy anymore. Due to our intrinsic understanding that the two party system offers us a very limited role in electing our leaders, many Americans have already washed their hands of participating in the electorate and have opted to not even participate. As Obama warned, “our democracy is threatened whenever we take it for granted,” and though our government started as a republic, we have lost faith that our democratic participation in it every two to four years has any real effect, so much so that although only 60% of Americans showed up to vote in the last election, nearly 2.4 million people nationwide cast ballots in other categories, yet left the presidential line blank. In doing this, we have more than symbolically thrown up our hands and admitted that the US government is little more than a business, and a little over 25% of the registered voters decided that the most popular businessman in America should run it.
In some ways, it seems as if America is merely coming full circle. When the country was first forming, the Articles of Confederation were devised to create order so the new Americans could prosper together as states, with their own independence and sovereignty, which may have developed stronger local communities. However, they did not provide the infrastructure for adequate economic development, and so the Constitution was devised to take its place, and it has since served to develop more economic opportunity than arguably any other document ever developed. Nevertheless, ultimately, it has also made us beholden to the financial interests that have used our devotion to the principles of independence we hold so dear as a means to enslave us. Following the trend of making money as our highest priority, through either our ambition, ignorance, or apathy, we have now elected the poster child for fiduciary myopia to take the reins of our government.
Yet, if you squeeze a little radical pragmatism into it, democracy isn’t just about the government, and given the new economic opportunities afforded to anyone with access to a computer through the digital revolution, it may very well be that voting with our dollars is the only rational response to a nation so devoted to money. With entrepreneurship on the rise and more workers leaving corporate America to start their own businesses, we are realizing the power we have to live independently from the institutions we’ve clung to for the last few centuries. It may very well be that a Trump presidency over a republic so few of us believe in will continue to help us realize our place in the big picture. May we all remember that what becomes of our government, our country, and the land they’ve lived on for the last few centuries, as President Obama said, “depends on our participation; on each of us accepting the responsibility of citizenship, regardless of which way the pendulum of power swings.”
I apologize for not stepping up to see if you’d rather have me for president, but I’ve got music to play, words to write, and places to go. If you can forgive me, and everyone else who ever let you down, I think you’ll be fine. Just remember that a country is more than its government, and personal responsibility is a much higher virtue than nationalism.