So this is the thing about politics: the wound started out incredibly small. The infection was initially mild.
The coronavirus pandemic, and everything that came with it, quickly put on display everything that is wrong with this country. Our politics are too local. Our response is too rooted in money. Personality has become too much a part of policy making. Messaging – not policy, or simply right or wrong – is a make or break tool, which is absurd when you really get down to it. What begins as something minor can explode into a big problem, a crisis, in a matter of just days. This is exactly what has happened.
Politicians on every level showed themselves to be incapable of handling the crisis before them. On my city council, we had so many people that couldn’t see past years of just saying what sounded best; and they failed to anticipate that this would result in a rapid erosion of trust in the community.
When COVID first hit the United States, two of the residents of our city were on that first cruise that returned with the illness. The patients – Patients 0 and 1 for our community – were ill for a week or more before they were even tested. When we all finally found out that they had, in fact, come back with SARS-COV2, naturally the public had questions. I asked several of our city council members if we knew the locations the people had been: when I come home from a vacation, I’ll do things like take an Uber, go grocery shopping, if we came down with a cold or flu we’d go to the pharmacy. One city councilmember replied to me “well we should hope that the community helped them get what they needed so they could isolate.” Except they didn’t even know they had COVID yet, and so the trust began to erode in those earliest days for many of us. Unfortunately, and on every level, it didn’t take long before it was all lost.
My city council race was nothing particularly unique; in fact, it was exactly what every other race in America is like. It is exactly what the future of America may end up being. People that run for water boards and school boards today get into the same type of toxic political wielding that the president does. We would be foolish to believe this is not intentional.
In fact, I know it is; as do many within the upper echelons of the two, major political parties. When I was interning at the end of my undergraduate degree, I went to the California Democratic Party’s annual convention in Sacramento as the denouement of my internship. I still vividly remember meeting with my academic advisor afterwards where I described to him the talk I attended by some group presenting what they called The Red Takeover. This was the Republican Party’s plan to takeover American politics by filling in every non partisan seat they could with party line favorites. It didn’t even matter if the people were qualified or had experience in government or public policy; all that mattered was that they were allegiant to the party and its ideologies, at all costs. My advisor’s face filled with horror as we talked about this, and – as idealistic as every other college student – I giggled and said “but that’ll never happen.”
At the retirement community’s candidate’s event – the one where the moderator was an ardent supporter of my opponent – one question came up about what our political affiliations were. A non partisan seat in name only, it was still well known that he and I had both taken Party endorsements, and yet he had claimed on his campaign signs to be Independent, so someone was trying to draw out of him the truth. In his answer, he admitted his allegiance to the right-wing faction of the GOP, and then went on in a whisper of a voice, leaning in to the microphone, about how the thing to remember about me – me, remember he was campaigning on not being me, rather than his own merits – was that the Democrats had an insidious plot to install puppets in non partisan seats all over the country. Projecting as many good Republicans do, he slithered this accusation into the microphone, while I realized that he was also probably right. Not that I was some Blue puppet going to takeover the council with the Democrats’ agenda. But the plot he described was quite clearly real overall. It was over 15 years ago that I saw that presentation at the California Democratic Party’s convention, and the truth was that I had left halfway through it. I didn’t even stay to hear the part I should have stayed to hear: that the Democrats were planning to align their strategy with the Republican’s, to fight fire with fire. They both planned to do it, and today it appears that they’ve been successful.
This, surely, is how in my own city we could have a nurse sitting on the city council, in the middle of a pandemic, doing absolutely nothing for public health and nurses. When the nurse’s union approached me about an endorsement, it was mainly to air grievances about how they did not feel protected while working in our community when a secondcity council member (my opponent) sits or sat on the board of the local healthcare district. After the election, this clear preference to party politics and staying in office superseded what was right – with the pandemic, as well as a host of other measures that came before the city council that would impact the quality of life, health, and safety of our residents. With all of them, and not just in this city council. Once it became so evident to me that all of our non-partisan seats were simply puppets installed with wads of cash and a familiar name, it was easy to identify just who landed on which side, and why so much had gone wrong.
This isn’t to say that there’s anything particularly wrong with people choosing a side – so to speak – and then running for office. It’s what I did. But they have to be allowed to deviate from the Party on certain issues, and there still has to be some core aspect of them that is fundamentally qualified to lead independently. This, I feel, is like antibiotics to an infection that left otherwise alone would become deadly.
Instead of this though, what has happened, is that Party leaders have taken up the practice of handpicking who will run; they groom their candidates. This happens in big Party leadership – where the Party decides and elevates high profile figures to run for big ticket offices. And it happens, probably more prevalently and dangerously, in local political party-affiliated groups. People in my community have handpicked and installed – either by genuine and well funded elections, or by appointment after someone retires mid-term or dies – a handful of puppets to take seats they are otherwise not qualified for.
This has only been made worse with the rise of influence of social media, and culture wars stoked by both Parties meant to politicize otherwise non-politically divisive issues. Examples of this would be masks in schools and what textbooks are used to teach middle schoolers sex education or history. Critical Race Theory, Black lives matter, and the concept of systemic racism. False flag and rallying around a cause have always been used as political rhetorical devices, but thanks to class Party politics and growing divisions, stoking the flames of these cultural divisions only stands to make it all the more easy for political parties to hijack these hot button issues to win non partisan elections. Even though none of them truly believe in any of it.
How this relates to a real crisis – be it the pandemic, or something more long term like homelessness – is that then you have these bodies in place of leaders that are simply ill-equipped to handle what’s been put before them.
These people, these political drones that run on slogans and pep rallies, are so tuned in to suiting only the interests of their donors and their ideologies, that this is how they approach a crisis that affects everyone. With the pandemic, we saw it on the local county and city level with small businesses. Small businesses make up such a large percentage of campaign contributors in my community that this became the default beneficiary of CAREs funding when it was time to doll that out. In a public health crisis, public health was a mere afterthought; county supervisors were mostly concerned with when weddings would again be allowed, and how soon the malls could be back to full capacity. FEMA-funded programs, like meals for seniors and free hotels for COVID positive isolations, quickly were shut down the first chance they could as well, because while seniors were still hungry and people in multigenerational households still had a hard time isolating from vulnerable family members, the interests of restaurant and hotel owners came first. As things began to open up, community leaders branded those that still stayed home as selfish and hurting small business. This is how far afield we’ve gone in our thinking: that as community members, if we don’t support their donors, as we support them, we are in the wrong.
Moreover, it’s become even more evident over the years that on some level, many of the people both in elected and appointed office don’t even believe in the principles on which America was founded.
The GOP so clearly does not believe in representative democracy; while the Democrats have stopped pandering to the idea that there is such a thing as a social contract. Now in office for over a year, some interviews of White House staff and advisors include comments from these people outright saying as such. And in local Democratic groups and more Conservative organizations just the same? Talk to any of them and they don’t even know what a social contract is. If the two political parties do not even believe on some level in the government they are elected to run, what – really – is left? When we entrust them with our lives, as the social contract dictates, and they in turn do not even attempt to keep up their end of the bargain, we know that America’s disease has raged so far beyond a point, it may not be possible to bring it back from the brink.
Perhaps the evidence of just how deadly our infection in American politics truly is can be found in the politicization of the pandemic response. When I say this though I don’t mean things like “masks are for Democrats,” or “Republicans are antivaxxers.” Beyond the fact that statistically speaking, neither of those is an entirely true statement, rather the issue of each is nuanced and rooted in a variety of issues (some political, while others socio-economic and racial), those are not the real sentiments that have politicized the pandemic.
It’s been in how decisions at all levels of government have been made.
At some point, it became evident that pandemic policy was going to be dictated not by what was right or wrong, but how people would react. This alone is the very definition of politicization. Mask policies were not a blue state or red state thing, rather an issue of whether or not polls came back stating people would wear them or thought they were useful. Critical voter blocks were polled, rather than scientists and doctors. Mandates for vaccines or vaccine verification were made, or not made, on Party line philosophies, as well – not on the truly empirical evidence that showed the efficacy of vaccines (the shots, not the mandates).
My problem as a candidate, and an organizer and advocate since, is that I have failed to jump in on that Party line. In return, I’m accused of being everything: a socialist, a communist, a radical, an idiot, an anti-vaxxer, a conspirator, a Trump apologist, a CCP agent, a demon sent from hell to inject people with COVID vaccine. Everything. My status as just as much not a puppet for the Democratic Party as not a puppet for the GOP became clear to many of them when, quite some time after the election, I criticized a decision of Joe Biden’s on Twitter. Suddenly I was seen as a liability to the Democrats, too “progressive” in my thinking. Some thought it was a sign I was a Republican plant (I can assure you all, I am not that interesting). It really doesn’t matter in the end who I was with, though; the point was that I was not blindly allegiant to any of them, which we see now – on both sides – gets you kicked out. And this is the real crux of the argument: the Democrats and the Republicans are just one club of infected political ideologues. Blue MAGA, Red MAGA – both are fundamentally MAGA.
And as Carlin says: “it’s a big club, and you ain’t in it.”
The truth is, I advocate for what I think is right. I really, and truly, believe simply in improving our material conditions and quality of life. I really, and truly, believe this can be done from the standpoint of public health. At the end of the day, almost all things can lead you down that road. Typically, I can argue for this from the perspective of facts and reason; unfortunately, though, those are two things that come as a threat to those unable to easily use them when those very things confront the sycophantic drones of either Party.
When I was running for city council, early on, another candidate who was deep into the local Democratic Party contacted me to lecture me about FEC laws and my campaign materials. In it she offered to bring another Dem Party “insider” to help me out. Having worked on so many campaigns in my life, as well as for the labor unions, I knew how it all worked already. Should I have been insulted that she didn’t know this? Maybe, but then I didn’t have time to be offended. The truth is, I barely had the time to run the campaign, let alone do that and play extraneous personality politics. I thanked her and politely mentioned that I was aware so wouldn’t need the help. Perhaps that was my mistake; but with the little time I had to run my city council campaign, I didn’t prioritize humoring local political party “insiders” (if you can call them that) on my schedule.
I rarely heard from any of the local Democrats again after that. So I stopped worrying much about what they thought, stayed true to myself, and in turn got into a lot of trouble with the locals.
When a local mom blogger, who is in local politics insofar as she’s on committees but is too narcissistic and unhinged for me to pay much attention to, was drunk-posting on Facebook about another mom not tipping enough to her Instacart driver, I commented “maybe she simply didn’t have the money but still needed the service? Could she be COVID positive?” This became her rallying cry to consider me the loose cannon that other Democrats had “warned” her about. She’s had a target on my back since.
But those were more personality politics than they were policy politics. Of course on those I got into trouble too.
When locals that had called on the community to stay home, social distance, and do the right thing all along, were suddenly having parties, going to work sick, and bragging about going into stores mask-less because they had been vaccinated, while children out in the community still were not, I called them out and asked them to please hold the line to protect kids.
Another rallying cry.
I wrote our city council, asking them why they broke from the state’s mask guidance, making masks optional even as children in our community were being hospitalized from COVID. Later, I wrote them again, begging them to have mobile vaccination clinics at community events. When they didn’t respond to either, I called them out in the local paper.
Another rallying cry.
When Democrats and Republicans alike started to back further into their corners, openly suggesting retaliation towards their political opponents on school boards and neighborhood councils (one even suggesting that a school board member be evicted from her home so she could no longer represent the district, something that has since initially writing this happened to me and my family), I spoke up.
Another rallying cry.
Ultimately, I’m just a mom. I write. I post on my blog. I take graduate courses. I advocate for others. I spend a lot of time talking to people that are in the community that want better material conditions. And I spend the bulk of my days just being with my kids.
On the campaign, and every day since, I have come into contact with so many people just like me. Many volunteered for my campaign, many have continued to contact me to this day. Just average people sick of the disease that is running our community; sick of the infection that runs unabated in city hall and beyond.
The infection was initially mild. It was a wild plot to takeover America, but that nobody ever thought would happen. It was some infighting in just one, toxic Congressional district. It was one, unqualified Party favorite council member, on a board of otherwise entirely qualified and impartial individuals.
Today it is all of them. It is all of them, and they are in control of everything.
As time goes on since my failed bid for city council, I’ve become more worried about both my community, and America on the whole. It would be one thing if this was just isolated. But quite clearly, it is not. Politics has always been cutthroat and nasty, always in the state of nature; but never has it been so toxic that the host body joins the mild infection in destroying everything in its path – friend or foe.
The solution, of course, is that we inject the body politic with massive amounts of medication – antibiotics, steroids, anti-inflammatories; the works.
We reform elections so that money becomes less of a driving factor, so that lobbyists cannot control so much of our public policy. Who reforms elections is as important as the reforms themselves, though; reform must be done by the voters. Not the mom bloggers, committee members, and each board or council doing it their own way, but the voters. All of them. Universally.
We take limits a step further than number of terms, and apply them to election spending. We publish campaign contributions for each candidate in the election pamphlets that come with the ballots. Because who you elect is never just the personality you click at the polls, it’s everyone that donated to their campaign too.
We hold leaders accountable for their failings. We have more oversight. In a municipal government, we allow voters to take part in appointments and have hiring hearings that the public can view. In higher levels of government, like Congress and the Presidency, we do the same, only more so.
Perhaps the boldest move would be that we institute ranked choice voting. Ranked choice voting, combined with very systemic election reform created by voters (not politicians) would go far to break up the two party system, and level the playing field so that more qualified candidates may come to the surface.
Because let’s be honest: both the Democrats and Republicans are equally, in their own ways, the source of the infection to begin with. And representative government does not work if the representatives see who they represent by how much money they’ve donated, or don’t believe in the government they’ve taken an oath to uphold.
Doing this, and more, would go far in changing America. In curing the infection, and in restoring us to a place that can do the work of representing people on every level, these reforms must be had to restore integrity. As high as the Presidency, and as low as a sanitation board, if we do not stop this infestation from plaguing us, it’s hard to see how we will come out the other side of it.
Remember that we can always go back from whence we came. The infection was initially mild. It may never be completely gone, but it can be controlled to be mild again.