I’m sick of our divisive politics, but voting still matters

Neither party is mine, not the jackass or the elephant.

Those words — rapped by the legendary Chuck D in Public Enemy’s 1991 classic “By the Time I Get to Arizona” — have long embodied my view of American politics.

I’ve always been intrigued by the never-ending tug-of-war for control of our local, state and federal governments. For years, I’ve been engaged watching debates and Sunday morning political roundtables for the back-and-forth on public policies to tackle our toughest challenges. I’ve been entertained by the chess-like strategy on display during election season, as each side positions its money, its players and its ideology to try and out-maneuver the opponent and claim victory.

But I’ve grown to detest both the Democrats and the Republicans.

What was once a contentious, yet respectful, battle between political parties has devolved into an ugly, bare-knuckled, win-at-all-costs street fight with no rules and no honor. At one time, our political drama made for great theater. Today, it looks more like trashy reality TV.

I understand why some folks choose to tune it all out and not to vote or even register. “What difference does it make? I vote every year and nothing changes, so why bother?” they might ask.

But I fear that way of thinking is contributing to the divisiveness in our politics and that it might be precisely what political extremists want us to think.

The extremists have taken a stranglehold of our politics, and they no longer seem to recognize that everyday citizens are still a part of the process. Both Democrats and Republicans have seemingly given up on governing. Instead of burning the midnight oil to negotiate and compromise on legislation, the parties have decided to wage a war on each other to win elections. The ultimate prize is gaining control of our legislative bodies. If they have control, there’s no need to compromise.

To secure votes and win elections, the parties more often bludgeon voters with fears, rhetoric and accusations, and less often with arguments about why their ideas and approach are more effective.

Shrinking the electorate has become a tried-and-true strategy. Redistricting and voter suppression are tools the parties have used to limit the voting power — or deny voting access — of those who might support the other side. And when would-be voters decide to disengage, they play right into those plans.

Fewer voters means fewer votes needed to win.

Consider this, based on the latest election results: Fewer than 650,000 Chicagoans turned out for last week’s midterm elections. That’s roughly one-third of the estimated 1.9 million citizens of voting age in the city. Just 1.5 million of those folks are registered voters, and less than half of those registered actually voted.

When disgruntled would-be voters stay home, they’re effectively dumbing down the electoral process. Those would-be voters are the ones who require a hard sell to win their support. If they got involved, the political parties would be forced to engage with them and feed them more than the same old crap the party loyalists swallow on a daily basis while watching Fox News and MSNBC.

If the disgruntled walk away from the electoral process, there’s no need for the parties to make convincing arguments. They can continue preaching to the choir.

I’m as disgruntled as the next guy, so I don’t fault those who choose to stay away.

However, through it all, I get up every Election Day, as I did last week, and I go to the polls and cast a ballot.

For sure, I am motivated to vote because of the sacrifices — literally, the blood that was shed and the lives that were lost — to ensure that Black Americans have the right to vote. And the fight to keep those rights remains.

But I also vote because it matters.

I don’t fool myself into believing that a vote will, in and of itself, right wrongs, level playing fields or solve our problems.

But I do believe that staying home only serves to harden our political climate and make matters worse.

Alden Loury is data projects editor for WBEZ and writes a monthly column for the Sun-Times.

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