I have little in common with millions of you. We like different drinks, root for different teams, watch different shows and vote differently. 325 million Americans, and our lives and choices almost never touch.
But we do one important thing together: we vote every two years for people to govern us from Washington. They make laws, conduct foreign negotiations and foreign wars, and enforce policies that affect all of us together, theoretically equally. So at this moment, I care about what all of you do.
I care about your votes, because I want the air I breathe and the water I drink to be safe. That seems like our most basic right. We know that we can’t just trust big corporations to put our health in front of their profits, so we need government to insure that they don’t dump dangerous chemicals into our environment. But the Environmental Protection Agency has now decided to ignore health hazards caused by the presence of the most toxic chemicals in the air, ground or water. For example, when the EPA analyzes the risks of the dry-cleaning solvent perchloroethylene, all it will test are hazards for those who directly handle it. The fact that that chemical occurs in drinking water in 44 states, because of unsafe disposal, will not be evaluated. This EPA decision is a direct result of the national vote in 2016.
I care about your votes, because I want our politicians to be good human beings, thoughtful, knowledgeable, honest people. Some of the candidates on the ballot in November will be nothing like that. Across the country, candidates with despicable views or despicable behavior have been getting hundreds of thousands of votes. In Alabama, Roy Moore, who refused to enforce our laws and had to be removed twice from the Alabama Supreme Court, and who is a despicable person besides, nearly won a US Senate seat. Twenty thousand people in Illinois’ 3rd Congressional District voted in the primary for Arthur Jones, a neo-Nazi and Holocaust denier. Don Blankenship of West Virginia went to jail, because 29 men died in an explosion in one of his company’s mines in 2010, but he got 20% of primary votes. We don’t have to vote for the worst human beings.
I care about your votes, because I depend on professional media to inform me about the world, the same media that many politicians say represents “fake news”. Voting for them means moving our national politics even further away from facts to propaganda. While trust in the mass media has fallen somewhat over the past 20 years, some voters have basically given up entirely on the nation’s most professional sources of news: less than 14% of Republicans have a “fair amount” of trust in the mass media. How else can we decide who is the best candidate?
I care about your votes, because only government can solve some of our most pressing problems: widespread poverty, pollution, continuing discrimination against minorities and women. But government can’t solve our problems if Americans don’t vote for good candidates. If we are just left to individual action, if we have no counterweight to the self-interested decisions of giant corporations or of the richest, most powerful people, our communities will suffer.
But today less than one-third of Americans believe that government officials are credible. Among the 28 countries surveyed by Edelman for its Trust Barometer, the college-educated “informed public” in the US ranks last in trust of our institutions. Just one year ago, the US was among the international leaders in trust for our institutions, with 68% expressing trust; now it’s only 45%. Trust in our institutions dropped from 2017 to 2018 more than in any other country. Only we, the voters, can do something to reverse this trend. Only we can find and vote for trustworthy people who will create a trustworthy government.
It’s more complicated than just avoiding Nazis. We must seek out people who demonstrate compassion for all Americans, who exemplify honesty in their personal and public lives, who seek solutions to conflicts rather than fomenting them.
How do ordinary Americans change the direction of America? The Southern Baptist Convention just showed how: they elected a young pastor as president, who urged his brethren to repent their “failure to honor women and racial minorities”. The SBC is breaking its partisan support of the Republican Party. They will change our politics, because they were willing to change their minds.
My fellow Americans, it’s up to us. We can’t magically make our country healthy again in November, but we can reverse disastrous recent trends. We can make America great again, not by being an ugly neighbor, not by trashing other nations, not by just looking out for ourselves, but by electing great Americans and encouraging them to represent the best in us.
Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, June 19, 2018