Aristotle once said, “Man is by nature a political animal.” Well, that statement is particularly true when it comes to the people of the United States of America. Before coming here, I mostly grew up in Ottawa, the capital of Canada. Living in the capital, I’ve grown up and worked in politics. When I moved to Duluth, I didn’t know what to expect, but I was excited to be in the midst of a presidential election. I had watched the debt ceiling debacle, among other fights last year, and became skeptical of the functionality of American democracy. However, I was wrong. Here are my observations on the American political system from my outsider perspective. America remains an example of how democracy works. Despite the gridlock in Congress, Americans remain optimistic and passionate about the future of their country. John Winthrop’s famous line about America being “a city upon a hill” is still relevant for your democracy. Duluth, with a population of under 100,000 people is considerably smaller than my hometown. Yet, it still has a “capital” feeling to it. What do I mean by that? There is an ever-present feeling of an election. Recently starting in the Master of Advocacy and Political Leadership program here at UMD, I have witnessed Minnesotans deeply concerned about the future of the United States. There is an unfailing view that politics can be changed from within. I have seen constant ads, campaign signs, and voter drives. News channels analyze anything from broader policy differences to the clothing the candidates are wearing.
Thomas Jefferson once said, “Whenever the people are well informed, they can be trusted with their own government; that whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them to rights.” Jefferson’s words are especially poignant in modern America. Yes, many Americans complain about the frivolous comments, present in the media, on the U.S. election from body language analysis to what the candidates are wearing. But Americans should feel lucky they have so much information at their disposal. Yes, some of the commentary is irrelevant, but it is much better to have too much information than too little.
There has been dismay that debates are purely spectacle, showmanship. Many voters have been subjected to different versions of the same numbers, whether it be unemployment levels, energy policies, and so forth. However, this is only part of the story. Another founding father, John Adams, said, “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.” American voters have an incredible amount of resources at their disposal to search the facts and check for themselves the claims the candidates have made. Think of all the fact-checking websites, the 24-hour news media, blogs, YouTube videos, etc.
American democracy is thriving more than ever because of the essentially unlimited information at all of your disposal. You can now watch what a candidate may have said years ago on YouTube, you can search the facts on unemployment for yourself. The facade of American democracy may show decay and a lack of truth, but the situation is one of a completely empowered electorate. A presidential candidate is subject to intense scrutiny, an unbelievable vetting process. Almost everything a candidate once said is publicized. Most Americans have the benefit of almost complete transparency in the voting process. This may not seem present in your government, but the election brings back the best in American democracy. Yes, the fight is very negative this year, but political ads and debates are not necessary in choosing a candidate anymore. There is far more information available beyond the traditional means of conveying a message.
American government may be broken. However, that can be changed. American democracy is still working brilliantly. And as FDR argued, “Let us never forget that government is ourselves and not an alien power over us. The ultimate rulers of our democracy are not a President and senators and congressmen and government officials, but the voters of this country.” Your democracy is still something to be proud of. The race for the presidency remains perhaps the toughest litmus test in the entire world. American government can be functional again. Americans must demand more from their representatives. This can be done if the passion I have seen here in Duluth from these elections continues after Nov. 6.
BY MICHAEL SCOTT firstname.lastname@example.org
photo credit to Matt Busch