Political Apathy

JONATHAN CARROLL | OPINION COLUMNIST

By now, we have all seen the patriotic declarations of “If Donald Trump wins, I’m moving to Canada,” and although recent polling is beginning to predict that a Trump candidacy will not be a reality in this election, the remarks point to a curious freedom and potential problem in American politics: when political power rests with the people, can the people be politically apathetic?

The United States of America is officially a republic, a term dictionary.com defines as “a state in which the supreme power rests in the body of citizens entitled to vote and is exercised by representatives chosen directly or indirectly by them.” So to anyone ready and willing to contest my thoughts from the get-go: yes, you are so right in saying that we as citizens are not voting for policies and reforms the way that a true democratic society would run. However, the fact remains that we as citizens do hold ultimate power, since we are the ones who elect the officials directly voting on laws and have the power to remove them, as well, if we see fit, which brings me back to my main point.

The point of democracy is that, in theory, no one person or sect of people should be able to consolidate power, because any ruler of that government will be subject to removal by the people; if someone tries to abuse political power, that person will then lose that power. As the over-simplified version of our nation’s creation goes, the Founding Fathers chose to create a republic because they believed that King George III was abusing his political power but could do nothing to remove him because of the form of the government over which he presided. Because the power did not rest with them as the people, but with the political ruler whom they opposed, they could do nothing to change the form of government, either, so instead they left that government to create one in which they and their countrymen and (eventually) women would have power.

Again, to my potential detractors, I realize that this is an example of people fleeing a government when they oppose the ruler, but take note of where the power lies. In response to a perceivably corrupt monarchy, citizens fleeing the state have no bearing on the political power because they had none to begin with; in response to a perceivably corrupt republic, citizens fleeing the state are consolidating political power with the remaining citizens, who—because they remain—are likely the ones who established the corruption in the first place.

Imagine, if you will, the response that the nation would have if a public official chose to resign (or even, as we are taking it, flee the country) because he or she is unhappy with a new law that was passed, or because he or she uncovered some corruption in his or her government. Would we not be outraged that this person has squandered his or her political power and not instead worked to use that power to fight for what he or she believes in? So too, then, must we give similar consideration to each of us as citizens and that mantle of power, however slight, that comes with that privilege.

“With political power comes political responsibility,” as a patriotic Uncle Ben may have said, and thus, in the wake of the upcoming election, no matter who we as a people choose as our next leader—Democrat or Republican, Trump or not—we have a shared responsibility to persevere in this nation and continue exercising our political power. We as Americans have the power to emigrate, yes. But we as Americans more importantly have the power and, furthermore, the responsibility, to liberate ourselves from political figures whom we see as unfit—and, thanks to the foresight of our forefathers, we do not need to start a revolution to do so.

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