As naive as we are, I am still an optimist when it comes to this country. We hear repeatedly that America is in trouble, that we are facing our most perilous times, that we are being over run by ideology, and a sense of fear for the future is stoked in us all.
And while there are threats that this country faces, social hardships to overcome, and an economy that struggles; there is hope for this young nation.
This is not to say that hope alone will solve our problems and deliver us from the issues that we currently face. It will take an individual effort to become informed and act. Not just about the issues we face, but we need to become informed about ourselves. Too many of us have only heard the superficial talking points about issues that only scratch the surface of their complexity.
If you are asking yourself how we got here as a nation, it is vitally important that the answer begin with an honest look in the mirror and accepting of our own faults. So before we dive into the issues of national interest, time must be taken to form a foundation of beliefs that we hold to be self truths. Who are you as an individual? Don’t start by saying you are a Republican or a Democrat, Conservative, Independent, or Liberal. It’s truly silly to accept one of these labels when we are all different shades of red and blue.
Better start with this: Do you believe in personal responsibility and to what extent does that reach? Do you believe in community involvement through some sort of service either work related or volunteer? Do you believe in empowering people to become independent? Do you believe in an organized society? Will your faith play a role in your politics? What about honor, integrity, and ethics in your personal life, how about politics? To what extent?
There is obviously more that must be explored. However, many people have never faced these questions for themselves. Maybe this is you.
It must be understood that we each have an individual responsibility to be informed, to know ourselves and what we believe, either based on our convictions, religious beliefs, or on some basic morality that comes with being human. Nevertheless, it must be done in order to form a foundation that you can rely on, not only in the voting booth but in your everyday life.
A well informed electorate is a shared responsibility between We the People, the media, and the candidates who wish to represent us. We the People have a responsibility to know ourselves and then go further reading and learning of the nation’s struggles. Listening to candidates and understanding their views and lastly showing up at the polls, an exercise if left undone lays all of our others efforts futile. That is our national duty.
Candidates have a responsibility to put out for public scrutiny their personal beliefs and a clear explanation of their views and solutions to the problem. They have a duty to show up to debates and make their points heard clearly, honestly, and respectfully. Candidates should be ignored when they engage in the destruction of others on a personal level. Public discourse is important, but public humiliation and demoralization is something we should not tolerate. When a candidate spends their efforts engaging in childish rants of personal attack against their opponent for the sole purpose of destroying their character and image no one has been served well and the responsibility to a well informed voting public has been ignored.
Journalism is a sacred duty that has become diluted by superficial reporting and opinion polls. There is little in-depth reporting done anymore. Our media is driven by “likes”, “shares”, “views” and ratings. We have an overwhelming amount of the written word both digital and in print, television, online videos and radio yet nothing is really said that carries the same weight, thought, or importance as this country benefited from in the past.
Decades ago there was only the print media and radio to rely on, and while it had its fair share of trash, it had more integrity in making sure that the citizenry was informed than we do today with so many more outlets of communication at our fingertips. So much of what is dispersed today as news is rubbish. It’s filled with half truths and innuendo. Our political debates are a joke, filled with unintelligent questions that do nothing to broaden our understanding of the candidate’s positions. They are filled with 60 seconds to answer five-second questions, and then 30 seconds to follow up, as if to say our national problems can be solved in a sound bite of ten words or 150 characters. Debates used to be hours long and candidates were given stretches of time to frame an answer so we could understand not only their view of the issue, but also their view of the solution.
Journalists should feel ashamed of themselves when they allow anything less to happen and betray the sacred trust that is married to their profession, one that we rely on for the appropriate disperse of information and perspective. Where is Walter Cronkite, Tim Russert, and other notables that delivered the news with honor and dignity?
“Meet the Press” ran with Tim Russert for 16 years and was labeled as one of the hardest interviews that someone could face. Tim Russert and his team did not set out for personal destruction; they researched the candidates and asked for answers. They put in the time to maintain the reputation of the show and that of the service it provided. He pushed for the truth so the people could hear and form an opinion.
Our national debate deeply depends on this service. Now we depend on “The View” or some other round table of celebrities and political pundits that pick and choose their facts to construct a framework of gotcha questions. This does nothing to educate the people, or maybe that is the point.
Since 1980, only half the eligible voting population actually registers and votes in the United States. According to the Pew Research Center, the United States is 31st out of 34 nations in voter participation. This fact has both pros and cons. The fact that half the country is silent in their government is sad, because they are all affected by the decisions of those who participate, even less by those who won. But at the same time it is a good thing. Perhaps some folks don’t vote because they know they are uninformed and don’t want to make a mistake. At least they are honest with themselves. That is a start.
The hope for this country must start with us, the people. It can be done, all the issues can be solved, all the best solutions examined, but We the People have to insist on it. The media and the candidates will follow if the Will exists in us to make it happen.
David Karaffa is a former Augusta County Supervisor for the Beverley Manor District who now lives with his three daughters in Palm Coast, Florida.