Saturday, July 2nd, 2022
Amid controversial Supreme Court decisions, Transgender debates, police brutality, heightened crime, an opioid epidemic, increasing soldier suicide rates, inflation, housing crises, etc... our American experiment is facing one of the most tumultuous periods of time since the Civil War. It’s high time our culture reckoned with how our hyper-focus on federal politics has misappropriated our priorities.
We are more technologically advanced than ever before, medical science has helped cure awful diseases, our quality of life is beyond some 3rd world countries' imagination. As Americans, even on our worst days we have it pretty good, yet difficult topics seem increasingly arduous. I don’t mean to diminish any of the very real issues Americans face, but perspective is healthy and helps us more productively approach this conversation.
So why does everything become an existential debate full of fear and anger? Our obsession over Washington DC has been the root of our issue for some time, and we continue to allow the Democrat and Republican parties to pit us against each other. Corruption comes to light and we let it gloss over and continue to play silly team sports with important issues.
My remedy has been consistent since our over-celebritization of President Obama: We must refocus our energy and priority to our local elections and affairs.
That shift in focus is purely cultural, and our hyper-connectivity has made it nearly impossible as we consume national news by firehouse.
We exist during a time in which change is a rapid, day to day occurrence. Just 20 years ago we had to make sure no one in the house was on the phone so that the dial up internet wasn't interrupted - and now we have phones in our pockets that have 10x the computing power and internet speed than what was on board the Space Shuttle. With these pocket computers has come the era of instant gratification with the world at our fingertips. And more impactfully, social media platforms have created hyperconnected human interactions across the globe - a beautiful experience if used correctly.
The change from being able to interact with only your neighbors and co-workers on a daily basis to being able to interact with anyone at all times is quite the shift. Our nation was built on a system that allowed different states and communities to exist largely within there own cultural bounds. Texas could have one set of values while California had another - and no one thought twice about it. But now? Every state action or law is on full display ripe for criticism or applause from non-residents.
Our founders built us on a system known as "federalism". Consisting of a mixed or compound mode of government that combines a federal government with state governments in a single political system, dividing the powers between the two. Most of a citizen's day to day trials and tribulations were to be handled at the local level, and big picture issues would be handled in Washington.
However, since the Great Depression the federal government has attempted to centralize more and more of its power, causing voters to look to Washington D.C. for more and more help. Focusing on federal elections to solve all problems rather than focus on their locally elected officials.
This has only been exacerbated by our hyper-connectivity. Now residents of California and New York, both traditionally left leaning, see certain laws in Texas and Mississippi, traditionally right leaning, and voice concern - often calling for some type of federal regulation. This shift in interstate affairs has primed us for where we are currently.
Because this shift has created more and more dependence on the federal government, there is now a celebrity culture around those in all three branches. Constant appearances on talk shows, TikTok clips, Instagram posts, etc. We now treat these federal officials as the sole problem solvers, all whilst failing to give the time of day to our city and state officials.
Most of our day to day is affected by local politics - or at least it should be. Yet compared to federal elections, local election voter turnout is abysmal, some localities in the low single digit percentile.
More people can name their US Senator than can name their Mayor or Alderperson, and that doesn't bode well for the health of our states. As you’re reading this, I bet you could name 10 US Congress members before you can name the Mayor or County Executive in your locale. Don’t worry, I’m often guilty of it too.
There is no question that federal politics are important, but to place it in higher priority than local happenings will be our undoing.
The last couple weeks have been a roller coaster of emotions for many in this country, and unfortunately our federal politicians smell that blood in the water and plan to use that anger and fear to line their campaigns’ pocketbook. We have to stop allowing them to hold this power over us.
Spending more of our time and energy on our local affairs and doing our part to become invested in the communities we live in could really go a long way. If we spend the time to vet and elect officials that properly reflect our values, federal happenings and Supreme Court rulings wouldn’t have so much of an effect.
Washington D.C. is incapable of knowing what’s best for every city, town, county, or state. It’s truly impossible to expect them to manage everything from top down. Decentralized government is the most efficient way to ensure the laws and regulations that affect you and your family are solely at the local level. The best part is that if we disagree with said laws? Local officials usually live in the same neighborhoods as you, making accountability much more real for them.
Let’s do ourselves a favor and turn off national coverage and opinion pundits designed to fear monger and stir up our emotions. Our time is worth far more and we must stand up to further division. Of course make an effort to remain up to date on the big picture items happening at the federal level, but it’s time to refocus our passion and energy towards our local elections and effect the change we want in a more efficient way. In your town, make your mayor a celebrity who is more recognizable than the president, and hold them to account on the issues you care about.
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