Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Perspective on US Elections

Over breakfast I discussed the election result with two children, aged 8 and 5.  The most critical thing I wanted to leave them with wasn't who won – if the victor turns out to matter to them in ten years, they'll have better perspective to study that then – but what US elections really mean.  So I asked them how many people they thought were on the news for having been shot over the attempted change in power.  The changing Senate seats, the changing House seats, the disputed Oval Office.  How many died over it last night, did they think?

Many people live in countries in which deaths occur every week over efforts to change power.  Unpredictable political violence places bystanders at risk even when officials are targeted.  However, political violence is frequently directed at non-government victims, like people shopping in a market.

In the US, we enjoy a tradition of peacefully exchanging power on a plan directed by an election schedule, which occurs like clockwork and is advertised on billboards, mailings, television, and social media.  These ballot-driven coups may not produce much change, but they produce all the change a majority demands.  It may not lead to wise policy (a look at federal budgets over the last few decades may suggest neither party has a monopoly on willingness to spend) but it's civilized (at least if you turn down the volume so the candidates' snide remarks about each other are less audible).

And that's the lesson I thought the kids needed to get:  we can get along, and disagree, and dispute power, and still never raise a fist.

The fist, we save for bullies.

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