Originally, I did not want to write about the election because both presidential candidates are depressing. One candidate is clearly the lesser of two evils, but both candidates will only widen racial and economic divides in this country. I changed my mind though because many people have misconceptions about the race and its consequences.
Although both major party presidential candidates will only polarize our system further, we can still improve our system tomorrow by voting. Plenty of politicians are running for town council, state assembly, congress and senate on exciting platforms designed to bring us together. By influencing the outcomes of these races, you can improve our system, because in some sense, local elections are more important than the presidential race.
People overestimate the extent that the president can change the country and underestimate the importance of local politics. Don’t misunderstand me — the chief executive is a powerful individual. But, our government was designed with checks and balances. Sustained, radical changes to our political system start at the local level and pervade their way through the national government. Don’t believe me? There is a long history of radical change starting locally before taking the national stage: the labor movement, civil rights and the anti-war movement.
People underestimate local politicians’ ability to cooperate because people assume their national alliances, political parties, are an unchanging, ideological affair. In reality, political parties are practical arrangements devised so people from different places with similar goals can cooperate in the national government. There are many examples of parties changing to reflect local interests. The populist Democrats became progressives to win offices in the Republican dominated urban north. Republicans had a progressive history, but became conservatives when northern Democrats alienated white southern voters during the civil rights movement.
This isn’t first time people are disillusioned with the system’s ability to change. People called the 1880s and ’90s “the gilded age” because the government was so ineffective. But, people’s frustration brought local level change, which culminated in national reforms for labor and consumers. We designed our system so changes come from the ground up which takes time and causes impatience. Historically speaking however, our system changes — especially when people are dissatisfied with national politics.
The beauty of the democratic process, is how it is dynamic, yet stable. Let me emphasize that it is dynamic. People’s disillusionment eventually changes the government. We are already seeing it this election cycle — states that are solidly affiliated with certain political parties in the electoral college are switching. Historically this accompanies parties changing their platforms to reflect people’s frustrations. Republicans flipped the Carolinas and southern states on the electoral map when they became conservatives. Democrats broke into Massachusetts and other Republican strongholds in the election of 1912 by embracing progressivism. The changes coming in the electoral map make your vote that much more important; when the electoral map is reshuffled and political parties change their stances so local politicians can cooperate to bring national reform.
So, don’t misunderstand me — the presidential contest is important. But local level politics are just as important. The beauty our system is that change starts with the people, even if it takes time. There is a reason many have fought to protect our system. So, if there’s one thing I have to say it’s this: get out there and vote! That’s my schtick and I’m sticking to it. Stay tuned next time for my last column this semester.
Eric Schulman is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Schulman’s Schtick appears alternate Mondays this semester.