Lesson 2018: Elect people who are worthy of the office
Whatever other problems we may have faced with the 2018 midterm elections, voter apathy was not one of them.
The electorate was on fire. Americans are painfully divided, and they often seem to live on different planets. But the good news is that nearly the whole solar system turned out to vote.
More than 38 million Americans cast their ballots early or absentee, a huge jump from the more than 21 million who voted early or absentee in the 2014 midterm elections.
You can credit President Trump — or blame him — depending on your politics. A poll taken before the election showed that Trump was on the minds of around 70 percent of those who planned to vote.
Still, while voter participation was higher than normal, you did hear — in the days and weeks leading up to the vote — many of the usual jabs at non-voters.
Even Oprah Winfrey piled on. While campaigning in Georgia for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, Winfrey told an audience: “For anybody here who has an ancestor who didn’t have the right to vote and you are choosing not to vote wherever you are in this state, in this country, you are dishonoring your family.”
Ouch. That’s a heavy load to dump on someone. But I’ll allow it. Winfrey is absolutely right.
All Americans should make an effort to vote. Our self-preservation depends on it. I’m a disciple of Alan Simpson, my friend and graduate school professor. The former Wyoming senator likes to say: “Politics is a contact sport. Take part, or get taken apart.”
But while we’re on the subject of dishonor, let’s save a little indignation for the folks who’ve created a system that is dishonest, corrupt and self-serving. In this election cycle, I was especially attuned to efforts by candidates to deceive their own voters on hot-button issues like immigration and health care.
What upsets me in every election is that those who, for whatever reason, choose not to participate are held in such disdain by political junkies, journalists and every other elitist with an opinion.
The non-participants are no small tribe. Many analysts agreed that turnout in this week’s elections could approach 50 percent. That would be the best showing in midterms since the 1960s.
But our expectations are so low that we applaud when only half of registered voters turn out to vote.
And besides the no-shows, there are also the non-registered. Generally, only about half of eligible voters even bother to register.
I follow Simpson’s law. I take part. As a journalist, my Election Day is busy. So, I make sure to vote in the morning. And yet, as a journalist, I also make it my business to understand the disgust of non-voters.
In fact, in recent presidential elections, I have been so disappointed in the choices that I opted for “none of the above.”
In 2012, with Barack Obama and Mitt Romney each pretending to be something they weren’t, I urged readers to “skip the (top) line” — i.e., vote for every office and initiative on the ballot, but not for president. That’s what I did.
In 2016, I resolved not to be bullied into choosing between arsenic and cyanide. On Election Day, I entered the booth and wrote in a name. It’s liberating to not to have to defend your vote for the lesser evil — which, by definition, is still evil.
This year, evil was back on the ballot — along with incompetence. In recent months, both of the major parties showed, at times, that they are not mature enough to handle unbridled power.
Democrats hurt themselves with the disrespectful way they treated Brett Kavanaugh. And for what? A report released this past weekend from the Senate Judiciary Committee concluded that there was “no evidence to substantiate any of the claims” of sexual misconduct leveled against the Supreme Court nominee.
On immigration, Republicans likewise behaved atrociously. They went from misleading voters about whether there are “sanctuary cities” where illegal immigrants live happily ever after to stoking fear over an “invasion” of migrants and refugees armed only with despair and desperation.
Things are bad out there, folks. So, going forward, let’s cut the non-voters a break — and worry more about electing the kind of people who are worth voting for.