And, so, it has come down to us – citizens – just as it always has. An election isn’t just about winners and losers; it’s also a kind of scheduled checkup on the health of our democracy. So far, the vital signs aren’t good.
To be sure, there are indications that people remain committed to the political process and its importance to how we carve out our future together. But not as many of them, and not nearly with the sense of confidence required to restore the optimism that was once part and parcel of our daily lives.
Something about this particular provincial election is deeply unsettling. It’s hardly a secret, as people all over the province express a deep sense of disquiet over the manner in which political parties, their representatives and citizens in general have behaved. Only the kind of people who thrive on politics feel pumped about electoral politics at the moment. The rest turn their heads away in either disgust or shame at what is becoming of our political class.
Many wonder when sanity will prevail again. Promises are made that can’t possibly be fulfilled but which are nevertheless trotted out in the hopes that voters are too dumb or too distracted to even notice.
And what of the attacks against female candidates that have become particularly acute in our city? They are malicious, demeaning, and frequently border on the edge of hatred. For any particular party or candidate that uses such malevolent voices for their own twisted ends, there can only be one conclusion: that the political “win” warrants such practices, even if they bring down community in the process.
We are perhaps the last generation that will remember what life was like before the Internet. For those who have lived through that transition, there is this troubling understanding that its potential to undercut and destroy the societal trust that once held our populace together is real and powerful. Used in the right hands it can restore democracy, bring communities together, and help us believe in one and another and our collective potential again. But elections are the optimal time for seeing what the online world can become when people will do anything, say anything, and believe anything as long as it cuts a path to power. We have forgotten that, for all that the digital world has done for us, it demanded something from us in return – to be open-minded, fair, humble, always learning, and ready to speak out against intolerance and bigotry where they are found. We overlooked that part of the bargain, leaving our politics in a state of dysfunction just as we most require it to tackle our great challenges.
There are credible candidates running in this election, and there are sound policies from which to choose. But makes no mistake, our politics is changing. It’s not some kind of add-on to what has gone before. It, instead, seeks to blow up what preceded it if that’s what it takes to win. It will never rest until it can divide us sufficiently enough to gain power. This will go on and on, election after election, until our democratic estate, like Humpty Dumpty, can’t be put back together again in some kind of manageable way.
What will we carry forward into the future should we, as citizens, continue to tolerate this kind of shame in our public life? Are we honestly willing to put behind us what once made our democracy respectful, human, and malleable, despite its shortcomings? We are proffered simplistic solutions instead of reasoned questions about how we should all live together. And that’s because some who seek our vote think that’s all we as citizens care about. Are they right?
The highest political office in the land isn’t in Parliament or Queen’s Park. It is that of the citizen. Only citizens can remove from power or deny power to those who would seek to weave a demeaning discord among us. We are at our best when, despite our differences or party affiliation, there is a sense of respect and compromise for journeying into our future. To tolerate the politics of bigotry, racism or outright hatred is to demean ourselves beyond the point where democracy can help us.
When we make a choice in a few days, let’s not just vote by our opinion alone, but with the sense that, whatever the electoral outcome, we are still left with the task of building our communities and our province together. Let’s not burn the bridges we all need to cross in order to come together once the election is over. Surely we can do better than what we have tolerated in this election. It all comes down to us – citizens.
Read this post in its original London Free Press format here.