Saturday, May 19, 2018

America's Soul Sickness

"History will not look kindly upon those elected officials who failed to act in the face of repeated mass murders of our children. Spare us your thoughts and prayers and do your jobs."

- Mike Rawlings, Dallas Mayor

I couldn't have said it better myself. Except I would've expanded my ire to include the millions of people who were too busy to care about voting in the last election and the millions who actually did manage to show up, but for some unknown reason pulled the lever for the very same elected officials who sold every last ounce of their integrity. Trust me, the blood of these children is as much on your hands as it is on the gutless fools you sent to Washington.

You want statistics? Fine. How about twenty-two school shootings in the first twenty weeks of 2018? Here's another statistic: there were more children killed in mass shootings this year than there were soldiers killed in the line of duty. Yes, you heard that right. There was more blood spilled in our nation's schools than there was in the field of battle. If that doesn't make you sick to your stomach than nothing will.

But the two most revealing statistics are the most damning of all: voter turnout and incumbent reelection rates.

Since 1932 - the first year that hard data was available - the turnout among eligible voters ranged from a low of 49 percent in 1996 to a high of 62.8 percent in 1960. That is a frighteningly low number. And consider that these were presidential elections when turnout is typically higher. In off year or midterm elections, the numbers are significantly lower. In 2014, for instance, a paltry 36.4 percent turned out to vote; the lowest number in 70 years.

Imagine a country the size of the United States, with an adult population of almost a quarter billion people, and a turnout percentage ranging from just over a third to just under two thirds of eligible voters. That is a statistic which should shame all of us, especially when you consider that in Australia the voter turnout for the last election was 94 percent. But then Australians are required by law to vote; American voters have no such requirements.

But a lack of voter turnout is only part of the problem. The crux of the problem lies in what happens when those voters actually step into the polls and pull the lever. According to The Washington Post, the incumbent reelection rate in this country is an astounding 90 percent for the House of Representatives and 91 percent for the Senate. That would be an acceptable rate if Congress's approval rating were deserving of such support among the electorate. But given that it's somewhere between a used-car salesman and a serial killer, it stands as a staggering contradiction.

When you combine the percentage of people who neglect to exercise their right to vote with the percentage of politicians who continually get reelected despite record low approval ratings, you wind up with the mess we're in: a group of spineless leaders who have the ultimate in job security granted them by an electorate too detached and apathetic to exert the authority granted it by the Constitution.

So maybe the real problem isn't with Paul Ryan or Mitch McConnell or even Donald Trump. Maybe it's with us, the voters. We, collectively, decided to send them to Washington, along with all the other politicians who continually fail to do their jobs, as the mayor of Dallas adroitly pointed out. And it is we, the voters, who keep sending them back year after year. They have no incentive to change because we've given them no reason to. Perhaps it's time we stopped blaming them and took a long, hard look in the mirror.

How many more school shootings will it take? How many more children will have to be slaughtered? How many more thoughts and prayers will be offered up in vain? The deceased do not need our thoughts and prayers, and the living have had quite enough of both. It is not for lack of praying that we find ourselves in this predicament. To quote from the epistle of James, "Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead."

This country was built by men and women of action. It was founded on the understanding that for a government to function properly it must be held accountable by an informed and engaged electorate. Our leaders are only as effective as the voters demand them to be. If the latter abrogates its responsibility, the result is what we now have: a completely dysfunctional government serving at the pleasure, not of the people who elected it, but of the special interests which continue to reward its malfeasants with unspeakable riches. The very definition of absolute power corrupting absolutely.

Shakespeare was right. "The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in our stars, but in ourselves."

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