The change of seasons is making me think about winterizing my boat. My eye always gets drawn to external blemishes and rust. The real threat is not the visible surficial rust, but the internal corrosion that left unattended that will cause me the big problems. To avoid getting stranded on the water from a system failure, I do the routine maintenance and upkeep required to keep my engine working. Sometimes that is not enough to keep things going forever, but so far, so good, and I have to date avoided an emergency.
I am coming around to thinking about this ongoing election in much the same way I think about my servicing my boat. How well our democracy functions is very much a function of how well we as a broader society take care of it. Voting is a big part of the preventive maintenance requirements, but it is just the minimum and is necessary, but not sufficient, to ensure a vibrant democracy. The overall decline in civic participation is really the hidden corrosion afflicting the governance we see. Our detachment from civic engagement is the root cause of many of our political problems and is directly responsible for empowering the extremists who are systematically eroding basic environmental protections that we need and probably took for granted.
So while this election feels more important than most, the reality is that every election is important to ensuring that we have a government, at all levels, that reflects the broad consensus that does exist in most of America for basic protections, services and liberties. Our collective neglect of the mechanics of government has left us where we now are with government that has rotted from the inside out and unable to provide for the basics needs of the people at almost every level. The solution? In the short term, get educated about people on your ballot from top to bottom and vote accordingly. Remember, when people tell you who they are, believe them. Everyone has a track record and it is not hard to figure out who and what candidates really are based upon what they say and do. Beyond that minimum, remember how you feel now and use that energy to engage in the ongoing maintenance of the engine that drives our civic life and get involved–and stay that way.