By Nancy Liebrecht
Virginia recently held its primary for the governor’s race. A total of 908,994 people voted, just 16 percent of the state’s registered voters. This is appalling, and it is a critical reason why our government is so dysfunctional. People are not involved and are not paying consistent attention to the issues. This is a problem for both parties.
It used to be that the Republican Party championed conservative values such as prudence, frugality, self-reliance and a belief in evolutionary versus revolutionary change. National security and upholding our alliances were fundamental. The imperial presidency of Donald Trump reflects none of the party’s traditional values or positions. Our credibility on the international stage has been undermined by an impulsive president who has disrupted both old and new alliances. Fiscal responsibility is being jettisoned by proposed tax cuts that will primarily benefit the Trump family, the billionaires in the administration, and the folks with whom Trump associates at Mar-a-Lago. The rest of us may just get a few bucks to spend at Walmart, if that.
Trump’s trillion dollar infrastructure plan is now exposed as a plan to not build anything but to sell off public assets to corporations. Established climate science is ignored so that energy companies will continue to profit while ordinary people deal with the consequences of global warming, such as disease, increased fire hazard, water shortages, and more catastrophic weather events. In short, the Republican Party seems to have sold its collective soul to the corporate devil.
While the Republican Party was becoming a vehicle for oligarchs to gain and hold power, the Democrats were asleep at the wheel. The Democrats used to be the party of the working man, but for the past few decades, they bought into the idea that easy credit was the best means to bolster a slowing economy instead of making hard decisions of how to invest in both public and private sectors to achieve real economic growth.
While financial deregulation provided the appearance of economic growth, it fostered the excess of debt that produced the crash of 2008. It fueled speculation that has given us extreme income inequality, stagnant wages, financial instability and a dearth of new enterprises that are the real engines of economic growth. It is estimated that only 15 percent of capital sloshing around in financial institutions is actually used for research and development and creating businesses.
While Democrats were along for the ride on the credit rroller coaster there were some voices in the party who advocated reining in Wall Street and reinvesting in endeavors that provide long-term stability and growth. The two best known are Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, but lately there has been a surge in the formation of grassroots groups that are pushing for reform within the party, and people who never considered becoming politicians are running for office. The Progressive Ninth, a group in our area, is mostly comprised of regular people concerned about the direction of the country and how this will impact our communities.
The nascent progressive movement in the Democratic Party is rooted in the same sense of frustration with national politics that spawned the Tea Party, but there is a critical difference between the two movements. The Tea Party views government as being inherently evil and seeks to dismantle as much of it as possible. This leaves a vacuum into which power-seeking oligarchs are happy to move. Democratic Progressives recognize that government exists to provide for the common good and seek to refocus the Party on policies and actions that benefit most of us and not just the wealthy.
The current situation regarding health care exemplifies this. Antipathy to government and a desire to “shake things up” have given us a Republican president and Congress who are now working on a bill that will deprive millions of medical insurance while giving the wealthy a huge tax break. Universal access to health care is a big problem that only government can solve, but our elected representatives will not do this if we do not make our voices heard. That is not going to happen if only 16 percent of the electorate, Democrats and Republicans, can be bothered to learn about the issues, the candidates, and actually vote. We all need to get involved. We need to make an effort to understand the issues. We need to talk to people who may not agree with us, and most importantly, we need people who are genuinely motivated by civic duty to stand for public office.
Liebrecht is a retired landscape architect and environmental scientist. She lives in Fries. This article was originally published in the Roanoke Times.