What America Needs

 In Promoting Tolerance

Americans today live in a monumental period in history. Impeachment is the word on the street, breaking headlines on national and global media almost daily. While many of our citizens are engrossed and entertained by the developing scandal, others choose to entirely turn off the subject. In either case, dialogue and conversation is seriously lacking. Even within families, political disagreement has become so pervasive that any discussion involving national politics is feared or taboo.

Not within our family. With friends at last week’s Friday dinner, impeachment was inevitably on the menu. My parents and I found the congressional hearings fascinating, giving rise to the conversation. We praised Fiona Hill for her most articulate testimony that morning, adding important pieces to the puzzle. Noticing that my grandparents and other invitees weren’t as engaged, my dad asked if they were up to speed with the happenings at our nation’s capital. They were not.  My aunt expressed she found the hearings uninteresting and irrelevant to her life. “I don’t even bother to turn on the news anymore” she said. She was “too busy to bother and didn’t affect her.” I asked whether she planned to vote in the upcoming election. Her response—“I don’t even vote, Trump will get re-elected anyway.”

Sad. I knew she wasn’t fond of our current president, so why the indifference? Her attitude is not unlike that of many Americans. And so, I asked myself: If she wasn’t current on the news, how could she make such an assumption? If she was not supportive of Trump, why not vote accordingly? Our country is plagued by a serious decline in voter turnout. In my community, many will tune out political news because they find the subject depressing. They’re often busy and stressed with work and daily life; watching the news only brings on added anxiety. In schools, educators will often avoid the current political subject because of fear reprisal from students or their parents. While I can understand how the loss of hope can lead to indifference, this attitude is a direct affront to our democracy. This trend could eventually leave our country in the dark, the silence dimming all possibility of a brighter future. Each day, we see democracy, civil rights and transparency threatened—from the stripping of immigrant children from their parents, to the abandonment of our Kurdish allies or the attempts to invite foreign participants to influence our national elections.

As individual citizens, we may be powerless at directly influencing politics. Public protest expecting quick change is also not realistic. Yet, it’s important we understand how our government works in order to bring about positive change. For example, if citizens acknowledged the importance of midterm elections, (given that Congress is where policies are crafted) voter turnout would likely be higher than 49% (Fair Vote Organization). Although these results were at a record breaking high, (increasing from 36.4% in 2014) less than half of our nation voiced for change. While progress is being made in our Democratic House of Representatives, Congress and our executive administration have not been able to cooperate and pass important legislation. This tension was demonstrated primarily during the last government shutdown, primarily in response to Congress not allocating enough funds toward Trump’s border wall. Our President also expressed that his executive privilege effectively leaves lawmakers powerless against him (New York Times). Founded upon checks and balances, our government is meant to distribute equal power in each branch; it was conceived by design to stand strong against infringements of our basic freedoms and liberties. It is our responsibility to vote against any such transgressions that could otherwise put our nation at risk. It is OUR duty to re-instill faith in our system and secure its democratic ideals for future generations.

It all begins with informing ourselves, so we can reflect upon our beliefs and how they align with those of our political candidates. Strong awareness for what lies behind the checkboxes in our ballots forms the interaction between each citizen and his or her country. Involvement in our democracy ensures that the policies enacted are shaped by the voice of the majority of people, not a small segment of the population. Voting with purpose unites our national community, even if we all hold differing political beliefs. Agreeing to disagree has the potential to bring about new ideas through rational debate and compromise.

While Americans agree on the basic values the United States was founded upon, strong partisan culture is dividing us. Clearly, all Americans want to see progress being made. We all wish to enjoy safety, health, and live the American dream. We are beyond fortunate to stand upon the ideals of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We are entitled to our basic freedoms and find comfort in our Constitutional rights. However, America has become a battleground of polarizing ideals, far-right Republicans pitted against the far-left Democrats. Media networks have exacerbated this rift, as Fox news fires at CNN and MSNBC or vice versa. Our president continues to fuel this divisiveness, accusing “The Do-Nothing Democrats” of “wasting everyone’s time and energy on bullsh*t” (CNBC). Meanwhile, the passing of important legislation involving climate change or gun safety laws have taken second seat. Unfortunately, Trump’s rhetoric has resonated with the hopelessness of many Americans: His assertive language, conviction, bigotry and plain out lies had found the support of millions. Such power and influence have the potential to unite a nation, but only if used properly to promote tolerance and cooperation.

This is a critical period in our nation’s history. It is a moral imperative to find the time in our busy lives to stay informed and open the dialogue. We all have differing interests and passions on a particular policy or issue. I encourage each person to start the conversation—respectfully, of course. Only through challenge, we can find reassurance in our beliefs. Votes backed by thought and reason—not merely party alignment—will ensure that our elected officials lead with integrity and make decisions with our best interests at heart. We will find confidence and a great sense of fulfillment in having taken a small step to steer our nation’s future in the right direction. Please do not resort to indifference because you’ve lost faith. Our system will work only when we all participate actively and wisely. Make sure you cast a ballot that reflects your beliefs in this upcoming election. And do so with pride!

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