It’s Not “Just” Politics

Cynicism at our peril

It’s common these days, at least in my universe, to hear “it’s just politics” to explain away the lunacy that confronts us daily. The statement conveys a resignation of sorts, a cynicism that normalizes the behavior of some humans. In that short passage lies an abdication of responsibility for where our culture has landed. And yet, we still have a tool bestowed upon us in a democracy to effect change — for better or for worse. We have the vote. 

The subtext of PlanitGreen is “Everything is connected.” That allows a lot of latitude in the subjects posted. I admit to leaning toward visions of a world that learns to interact with the physical and social environment within which we live, to the betterment of life in this time, as well as the possibility of a better life generations beyond. Barring the “Don’t Look Up” scenario of celestial disaster, or the eventual burning out of our sun, we should have innumerable generations to come. For my part, having a decent world for our grandchildren and great grandchildren would be a comfort, but even that world seems in trouble, given the lack of urgency emanating  from our governmental bodies. That said, we are allegedly still a democracy, so the responsibility lies not only at the feet of those in power, but those who elected them. 

A side note about bureaucrats: I hear, more often than I’d like, the refrain “all politicians are bad,” a variation on the theme “government is the problem.” I’ll say up front that I know better, having served around thirty years in government bodies from municipal to federal; I can say without reservation that the vast majority of my peers — the “worker bees,” if you will — had a sincere commitment to serving the public good. I would also generally extend that confidence to the career [non-elected] management, at least to the extent they are buffered from the whims of elected officials who change courses with the variable winds of the party du jour. But in spite of the culture that surrounds them, not all politicians are bad, just human. 

There are numerous topic areas — like gravity or physics — that should be above politics; the laws of thermodynamics work whether or not one believes in them. An existential threat to life on Earth should be another. We face challenges that are not conducive to piecemeal local or regional solutions, but require a coordinated national effort; there are vulnerabilities in our food production and distribution, transportation system, communications system, and our energy distribution system, to name a few. Climate change is a legitimate threat that doesn’t respect borders or political leanings, and while individuals and local programs continue to innovate and effect change on a small scale, coordinated policy languishes in political bickering. 

The federal government has a role in putting into motion solutions to big challenges, and climate change is one that needs immediate action. We’re seeing the consequences of our tardiness in real time. When elected officials fail to meet the call to work out those solutions, we have an obligation to replace them with those who are committed to the work. Party affiliation should have nothing to do with it. It shouldn’t. If government isn’t working, it could be inferred that it’s the voters who are the problem. Don’t cynically write off the government. An informed and active electorate is the heart of democracy, and we have the tools in a democratic society — to the extent we can hold on to it — to stack the deck with people more interested in solving big problems than maintaining power. We just have to use them.