EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the third in a series of five essays by Carleton Cronin, a long-term resident of West Hollywood and an astute observer of local politics, that explains why it’s your responsibility to vote.
My simple answer is a question: How did you like the past four years of “governing” under Mr. Trump? Was it fun watching the man at the wheel of our Ship of State not knowing how to steer?
I’m told that civics – the study of the rights and duties of citizenship – is no longer taught in school. That is a serious error on the part of the school boards across the country. (What if it is a willful move to keep us from questioning our lawmakers?) A person who has just been sworn in as a new citizen would know more than any high school graduate if that is true. That is shameless. A reminder: we live in a republic, the form of government our Founders chose. A republic is a state in which supreme power rests with the people who elect other worthy citizens to administer the government guided by a duly elected president, not a monarch. Moreover, if you do not vote you relinquish your supreme power to people who may be unworthy to administer the laws and policies and control our assets of land, water and air as well as our economy.
The privilege and duty to vote for representation is more necessary now than in almost any other period in our country’s history.
This why voting for representatives is so important to retain that power. Also, I have always believed that citizens of a republic, any of which can run for public office, are to be considered as equals. And, since in a republic there is no monarch, no royalty nor peerage, that titles should stay with the job, not follow the person. When a president is removed by vote, or a mayor steps down, he becomes what he is: a citizen equal to all other citizens – but with our thanks for serving. (That he may also retain a fat pension for his time is another topic to consider.) Nothing more irritates me when interviewers refer to a former president as “Mr. President” or a former Secretary of State as “Madam Secretary.” He is that no more, nor is she. The title stays with the job. I know, egos always get in the way of grace. It is important to remember that our elected officials ae just like us: not immune to flattery, opportunity, errors of judgment, and all other human foibles. Holding them to their sworn obligations is imperative and often more an action of collegiality, since we are all citizens of the same democracy.
The Electoral College – ah yes. On July 6, the Supreme Court issued its judgment that those chosen as electors to the College may not “be faithless” and swerve from the voting orders of their state. We keep diddling with the very existence Electoral College – we, meaning the lawmakers who decry its use when they lose but will not get rid of it because they might need it the next time out. I believe it is past time for the Electoral College, and we are not well-served as individual voters when it can override the popular vote in a presidential election. There are some who were delighted that Hillary Clinton was shut out by its vote, but the three million votes the decision overrode was a blow, I believe, to the very idea of “one man (woman), one vote”.
How can I change that? Here’s one idea: I am a relentless, merciless letter writer, and I constantly remind lawmakers about that and other matters. This is the other part of “rights and duties of citizenship.” Because a person is voted into a public office he or she must continue to listen to constituents in order to be effective. If not, he or she can be voted out or, extreme circumstances, taken out by a recall. We have far too many legislators simply giving tepid lip-service to the job. Too many holdovers – and that is not just a national problem.
I find that voters in West Hollywood are rather timid. I see some individual actions at City Council meetings, but not very many concerned group efforts to enact a rule or change one. I’ve read many comments in WEHOville.com that should be sent to individuals on the Council. Are they sent? I have asked each Councilperson at one time or another if he* reads WEHOville.com. None replied with enthusiasm, which led me to believe that they do, and that they have politicians’ egos. Our town is small enough and compact enough so that meeting City Councilors can happen at the super market, the car wash or simply strolling on the street. During the 36 years of cityhood, I have always found all of them approachable and willing to converse.
But, getting the one you want on the Council means voting for that nominee and engaging others to consider him*. Like most of the country, low voter turnout seems to be a constant. This year, as COVID-19 rages across the planet, voting by mail is becoming a necessity. It’s very simple in California, but consider other states where voter suppression is rampant and out in the open, and the obstacles just to register are almost insurmountable for poor people and those without a car. Since this form of intimidation is more apparent in the Southern states, I’m reminded of the barely intelligible babble of the drill instructor, during basic training in 1951, as he shouted to us “damn Noo Yawkahs” (anyone not from the South) that our military service was in part to save our democracy and retain the right to vote. Looking back through it all, I find that I missed only one presidential election since my 21st birthday and that was because I was busy in the Air Force and unable to vote — even by mail. It’s still a gift. We must use it well.
*(I use the old generic case form, “he” meaning the neuter, neither male nor female.)
Tomorrow: Interrogating the candidates. Carleton Cronin suggests some questions we all should be asking.