One of the greatest dangers voters can fall into is the assumption that politics have has ‘always been this way’ or ‘never been this bad.’ The first mindset leads to despair, the second to desperation. Both eventually result in disillusionment. To be an informed voter and not be constantly panicking or willfully ignoring the ebbs and tides of politics is a precarious and often uneasy balance. However, without it, it is almost impossible to act as a healthy citizen interacting in a republic.
Cynicism certainly has its place in the political sphere. In fact, it is a necessity when confronting human nature. As James Madison famously said, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary”. In an age where policy interchangeably links with a good sob-story for emotional appeal, caution is certainly called for. The problem is where “caution” becomes meaningless misanthropy for all aspects of the political process. It is a reality that government is a necessity. Unfortunately, government is also made up of humans and humans are fallen. To complete Madison’s thought, “If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.” It was because of this he argued for checks and balances in the Constitution. Unfortunately, time has shown that checks and balances are not always enough. The power of some offices grow at the cost of others. The people have not jealously guarded their rights. Our elected officers throughout the ages have proven their nature and been self-seeking. This is a reality. Our government, however, cannot and must not be written off as eternally damned! To do so completely eliminates hope. The very fact that our Founding Fathers so many years ago could strive for a higher goal, could dream of the Republic they were creating, could write and speak of such things as checks and balances must encourage us because there is a reason for such hope. The experiment has not yet failed and even if it has, we must pick up and start again. Mankind may never reach an angelic state, but that does not mean we don’t strive towards it. It does not mean we turn a blind eye to the failings of our officers because “it will always be that way”. It does not mean we abandon hope to the tidal wave of attack. Even if it is a hopeless cause, we fight because there are things more important than life. It almost seems easier to pick up a broadsword and hack at the problems. Unfortunately, the struggles besetting our culture and country cannot be found in a physical object to hack at. It takes words and actions and trudging back to the polls even when a chosen candidate loses. Even when a politician turns corrupt. It takes raising a generation to follow in the search for freedom, and even then marching on if they turn. It takes calling a spade a spade, and pointing out when the emperor has no clothe. It is a lifetime of duty. It is adulthood. The problem does not go away because it is ignored. The problem gets worse. Edmund Burke said, “ All that is required for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing”.
However, it is easy to swing too far in the opposite direction and right into another fallacy. While a single decision or moment can make a huge difference, it is important to remember what David Hume once wrote: “It is seldom that liberty of any kind is lost all at once.” A battle is not a war. An election is not a lifetime. It is easy to feel anxious, overwhelmed, and certain that the entire balance of the world now hangs by a thread….and only your action can save it. Such excess of emotion is egotistical, though, and unprofitable. It does the world no good if you are paralyzed with fear or overwhelmed with the enormity of the situation. Abraham Lincoln once said, “The best thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time.” It is okay to mourn for a night, but the world does not rise or fall by one man or woman. Your Congressman, President, or local garbadge man will not single handedly destroy or save freedom, baseball, and apple pie. It takes a series of battles, a slow erosion, a continual lapse of vigilance. Until the end there is hope. After all, it can always get worse! The generation fighting for freedom is not the first to fight, and will not be the last. A remnant always remains. The war is continuous and remains continuous. Ronald Reagan so famously said “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream.” Do not expect to defeat those who would take away liberties in a moment, much less a generation. There is only so much you can do. The fight goes on. New enemies arrive and new strategies are devised. Be ever vigilant, ever wary, but enjoy the time you have. It is possible to fret yourself to death over something you have no control over. So don’t. Stay passionate, stay involved, but realize that while your actions are important and they do put a dent in the battle, decisive, war-ending victory does not rise or fall by your or anyone’s single hand.
I am young and have not experienced much of life, but I have felt the temptation of both sides. I have known the panic and the need to do something…and I’ve known frustration and ease of just ignoring it all. I am young and so I yet believe it is possible to find a balance between the two. We’ll never completely destroy tyranny, and so we must embrace our freedom by seeking it in our everyday lives. I am young and thus naive and I know there are a thousand arguments, a million reasons for stepping away or giving into despair. Yet I also realize that to do so is to exacerbate the problem. My generation will not save America. In our turn, we will fail. Epically. My generation will battle and leave our children a war not yet won. They in their turn will fight, and maybe there will be fewer fighting, maybe more, and battles will be won and lost and the cycle will continue on. As we are not alone in history, as our ancestors’ actions and words influence us, so time will bear witness of our struggle for posterity. The point is that we have fought in our turn and not given up. We must dare to hope, dare to fight, be realistic about the results and human nature, but never despairing. We must in turn carry “noble emotion” in our hearts…and practical wisdom at our fingertips. Really, who can sum it up better than Patrick Henry himself?
“The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave.”