New year's resolutions for political perspective
We're increasingly encouraged to let our politics define and take over our lives. But isn't it healthier to let our lives define and put boundaries around our politics? I think so and I'm hoping I can follow these easy resolutions to move in that direction in 2023.
1. Save the 2024 election for 2024
Come January 2024 there will be a handful of viable presidential candidates left and, if President Joe Biden runs for reelection, only one set of primaries will matter. At least 40 of the 50 states will have decided who they're voting for in November even before their parties nominate their candidates. And all that will be true whether we pay any attention this year or not!
Meanwhile, there are a lot of people making good livings by pushing politics at us in every way possible, including the candidates who will and won't still be viable by next January, the political pros who make a living off the hopes of those candidates and their supporters, the special interests and ideological "think tanks" that want you to be engaged and afraid enough to pay attention to and fund them, the pollsters who need to ask if you've heard of the governor of Idaho (or South Dakota, or Oklahoma or Guam) who's making a surprisingly strong run for president, and of course the political reporters and their bosses who need to glue your eyes and thumbs to their product in the most cost-effective way possible. We need all of them for the system to work, but we don't need to pay constant attention to them, so I'm not!
2. Make it a year without Trump
Who's he having dinner with? What are his thoughts on the Constitution now that he's finally read it? Will he be elected again? Will he be in prison? Will he do both? For now I just don't care, and not caring may be the smartest thing we can do. Attention is to Trump as oxygen is to fire. Perhaps if Americans of all opinions tune him out as much as they can, he'll burn himself out. And if not, there's nothing he can do that will change anybody's mind about him, so why give him the time or energy?
Of course we need to be vigilant about Trump imitators and the more dangerous of his followers, but we can do that better if we ignore Trump and focus on the present danger.
3. Ignore polls
Polls get a lot of emphasis, probably more than they deserve. Weirdly, they seem to be getting more attention the less accurate they get. They also ask questions and portray results that emphasize division and they overstate the importance of issues that are on a list that pollsters ask about. We also lie to them, because we're lying to ourselves. My favorite example is that we nearly all agree that there should be more compromise and bipartisanship in Washington. But we aren't asked, nor do we volunteer our answer to the follow-up question. We'd all agree on that answer as well, which is that it's the other side's duty to compromise, not mine.
4. Be involved where it matters
There's not much we can do about the national government, and what it can do to us is limited, both by its small reach into daily life and by how hard it is to make significant changes. The political decisions that matter in our daily life are largely at the local and, to a lesser extent, the state level. This spring in Oklahoma will bring elections for many city and school district leaders. These are the ones charged with making our communities safer, economically stronger, and better places to live. They're also the only ones you'll ever meet and the ones who have the time and genuine interest to listen to your concerns and ideas. Voter turnout in these races is depressingly low, usually under ten percent. There's no excuse not to vote in these elections and, if you find a candidate you can support, volunteering is easy and much more appreciated than at the state and national levels.
Another way to get involved in ways that matter is to support, through time, money, or information-sharing, the groups that work on issues that matter to you. They work at all levels of government, and they're effective because they know what works best where and when. They also help supporters be better informed voters by reporting how representatives vote on their issues. In getting involved you'll likely be inundated with texts and emails about what else you can do for them but, unlike the ones from parties and candidates, they'll also be filled with what they are accomplishing and on how you can more effectively engage the political system. It's like a cheap civics class, but better than the one you took freshman year (unless you took it from me). Unlike voting, supporting an interest group is a statement of exactly where you stand on what you care about most. Here are examples from one organization I support and one I don’t.
5. Respect everyone; their views matter to them just as much as mine do to me.
I don't fully understand why people become hyper-conservative and I haven't yet fully disentangled legitimate political discourse from the undercurrent of racism, sexism and religious bigotry, not to mention the fascination with nutso conspiracy theories. I think I have a better understanding about why people become progressives, but I haven't sorted out their puritanical approach to language and disagreement, which they share with their right-wing opposites. But I'm starting the year giving everyone a break. While their behavior can be bizarre, their opinions can't be any less right than mine and it can't hurt me to try harder to understand them.
So that's what I'm aiming for this year. I doubt I will get a perfect grade, but I'll be trying!