The Nov. 4 midterm elections will mark the end of the recent slew of campaign videos best described as either horrible or horribly funny. These political ads, which are so common that they are almost expected, ignore the failures of a Congress with an estimated 14 percent approval rating. Instead of addressing Washington’s problems and creating substantive political discourse, they focus on demonization of opponents.
After the government shutdown in 2013, Congressional approval ratings sunk to an unprecedented 9 percent. Yet, if past trends indicate the voting tendencies of Americans, most incumbents will maintain their positions in Congress this election. In the 2012 election, 90 percent of House members and 91 percent of Senators seeking re-election retained their seats. As indicated by polls detailing officials’ approval ratings, most Americans dislike the actions of current politicians. But, we remain unprepared to consider unconventional solutions to move Congress past its devotion to party politics.
Contrary to the declaration of its devotion to the citizens, contemporary American democracy fails to promote the interests of its constituents. A recent study suggesting America is now an oligarchy indicates the extent to which American politics have strayed from the ideals espoused by the Founding Fathers. Democracy, in theory, provides an equal voice to all citizens. But in reality, American democracy historically authorized suppression and currently prioritizes certain demographics over others, as demonstrated by disproportionate incarceration rates and unequal pay.
For American colonists living under an oppressive British rule, the Constitution provided a template for what was, at the time, a revolutionary concept of government. Despite the Constitution’s elasticity and adaptability to modern circumstances, this document no longer engenders unparalleled involvement in politics, and the unquestioning acceptance of the existing structure prohibits any substantial improvement on its systemic failures. While the Constitution need not be abolished to rectify the current flaws of government, the limited mindset from which we approach it limits its useful application to contemporary problems.
Voting is hugely important, but in light of the high re-election rates of incumbents, the polls seem like an ineffective place from which to influence society. Until Americans set aside their complacency and reconsider their unwavering defense of the modern American implementation of democracy — which largely confines their political rights to voting — governmental policies will continue promoting the interests of the elite. Citizens should vote but, more importantly, they should challenge the accepted political norms outside of the booth. Inaction by voters has sustained the biting partisanship that has contributed to Congress’ low approval ratings. In a society with more citizen involvement, voters could interrupt the self-serving cycle of Washington politics.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, October 28 print edition. Email Zarif Adnan at [email protected]