The 597-day nightmare is over. The rancid taste in our mouths is still there, but at least we can spit it out and not have it spit back at us. I mean, of course, the 2016 presidential election is finished, and Donald Trump has won. It’s time to wake up and figure out what the hell happened. How did we allow this? How did we end up with a woman who represents the worst of government and a man that represents the worst of culture as our nominees? Where did this madness come from?
Remember watching The Wizard of Oz, where Dorothy and Toto and the whole gang go on a quest to petition the Great Oz for aid. They seek him for he is all-powerful. They go through annoying apple trees, flying monkeys, and poppies. At the end, they are met with someone who, in reality, has so little to do with the the happenings of the world, he’s essentially a fraud. The yellow brick road from peaceful Munchkin Land to the big Emerald City didn’t end in disappointment, but it did end in a very simple truth: those in far away lands have very little to do with you.
This is the truth that we must accept as we reflect upon the election. Every four years, but especially this sequence, we lose our minds over who is going to be president. I have fallen victim for such circus shows. The horror in presidential elections isn’t that we elect this bad person or whatever. It’s that we repeat a ritualistic insanity of tribalistic fever over something with such minimal impact on us. Somehow, we buy into the lie that our candidate has to win or else evil triumphs. We find some reason to make this election the most important of our lives, that winning is vital to overturning abortion (even though most Republican appointees, with rare exception, result in miserably disappointing consequences for the unborn). We do all this despite the fact that so much of what we frantically, even disturbingly, obsess over has so little to do with our lives. We have such a paranoid lust for conflict in far away lands, while having a profound lack of concern for our own communities.
With exceptions, the national government touches your life in the such unseen and minimal ways (like, how many particulates of insect parts are allowed in your can of soup), that your opinion on federal regulations most likely doesn’t even exist. The presidency, in all its trappings, rarely affects you directly. It appoints justices who rule on matters you’ve never even conceived, and the appointees often don’t turn out as you expect. The budgets that come from the White House must first get through Congress, as with appointees and treaties. The only real power the presidency has is the ability to launch military action (which, if just formally, is also checked by Congress). So, unless you can orchestrate a large enough petition or can hire a lobbyist, there’s very little you can do to modify federal regulations (that you didn’t even knew existed) much less modify drone warfare (which Congress has difficulty addressing). Between the lack of relevance of federal regulations and the lack of control of the president, it’s bizarre we stress over the national government so much.
A couple years ago, though, I realized that what’s most important is right in front of me. The thought came to me as I learned more about the principle of subsidiarity, that whatever can be done at the most intimate level of authority should not be done by a more centralized authority. The concept was immediately appealing to me, and as I continued to learn more about St. John Paul II and public policy at city and state levels, the more the idea bloomed. So many of our most pressing problems can be more easily addressed by local levels of government. But we’re so close to those levels they’re often sitting right under our noses.
It is right and good for you to fulfill your civic duty, to be informed and vote. I welcome those that do. What I do not welcome, and God knows I can be guilty of my own observations, is hyperventilation politics, where something so distant has such a demand on your heart.
We should be more concerned about the mill levy about to be raised for the construction of a new school building. The new zoning and assessing policies the county is about to vote on. Or the increased tax necessary to update an illegal sewer system in your city. Or even the state’s proposed legislation to enable grocery stores to sell alcohol at regular ABV levels. Education, property, utilities, BEER. These are the things that make a difference in your lives, and the lives of those you love.
Tip O’Neill once said all politics is local. That all the important things that even Congress members are concerned about is pertinent to matters affecting the local level--the districts, counties, cities. Alexander Hamilton confirmed this in Federalist Paper No. 17:
It is a known fact in human nature, that its affections are commonly weak in proportion to the distance or diffusiveness of the object. Upon the same principle that a man is more attached to his family than to his neighborhood, to his neighborhood than to the community at large, the people of each State would be apt to feel a stronger bias towards their local governments than towards the government of the Union; unless the force of that principle should be destroyed by a much better administration of the latter.
Man is predisposed to finding importance in those things closer to him, like family, neighborhood, and town. Those things far away may entice his imagination, but the concerns directly in front of him command his attention. And, because of incredible ability to vote often in his local community, man has the power to have a real impact on the path forward.
For all you CBCers who value the intimacy of community, I advise you reconsider the importance you may place on the national government. This isn’t a little challenge I casually throw at you. I’m saying get informed, go to school board meetings, and vote. And I would highly recommend using all the money you put to use for buses for the March for Life go toward more local things, like protest at city hall over the building permit of a Planned Parenthood, or even a march to the state capitol building. Less people? Sure. Not as glamorous? Sure. Will it have a greater impact? You better believe it.