Let’s keep the republic

For better or worse, 2018 is another election season.  Maine towns will soon be holding party Caucuses and in June voters will select their party’s candidates for governor, state Legislature and the U. S. House and Senate.   Typically, these midterm elections attract little attention and even less participation.  However, in November 2017 one in three voters turned out.  “Experts” had predicted closer to 20 percent and Maine turnout in 2016 was the second highest in the nation.   

In 1787, Benjamin Franklin told Mrs. Powell that the Constitutional Convention had given the people “A Republic, if you can keep it”.  What he meant by that was that America would thrive if the people made wise decisions and worked together for the good of the Republic.  It’s important to note that he did not say ‘a democracy’ as has been misquoted by some who see the people as an ignorant mob to be herded rather than as the informed and educated electorate Franklin envisioned.  Washington and Franklin both understood the danger that the republic would be lost if the people descended into a mobocracy of petty, mindless partisan bickering, and made their choices out of envy, greed and personal animosities.    

I hope that in 2018, Maine voters will again stun the so-called experts, not so much by turnout as by decisively rejecting the demagogues who seek to herd people into making choices based on party or economic and racial bigotry.  Making decisions for the good of the community, state, and nation requires analysis of facts and reliance on a framework of values and principles that goes beyond self-interest, short-term gain, or retribution against ‘them’. Unfortunately, while we have oceans of data available, reliable, objective, ethical sources of fact and truth are relatively difficult to find.  

Much, maybe even most, of the national legacy media and especially the internet media have shed all pretense of objectivity or truthfulness and become the enthusiastic allies of those who trade in personal destruction, demagoguery, and outright lies.  

We are left to sort out what is true from what is false or irrelevant, with little beyond our own principles and common sense to rely on. Our task is difficult but not impossible if we will do a little work and apply principles we learned in elementary school.  For instance, people who tell us things we don’t like to hear aren’t necessarily our enemies: Nothing is a lie because it makes us uncomfortable. People who have once lied, on the other hand, are dishonest and will surely lie again.  

We will be barraged with assertions, allegations, arguments and denunciations of candidates based on their wealth, looks or even the words they chose.  But those who seek to denounce others and proclaim their arguments the ‘righteous’ ones do so precisely because they either have no substantive policies to discuss or because they know they cannot defend their positions on issues, if they have any.  They seek the office, not the job.  

Yoda told us: “Try not. Do, or do not. There is no try.”  That harsh reality must be the standard for evaluating candidates.  What they say matters, but what they’ve done in life matters much more.  

It’s a good thing to reject and ignore those who recklessly hurl epithets such as racism or one of the dozens of newly imagined ‘phobias’ to stampede us to the dark side, plotting vengeance for imaginary wrongs.  It’s quite another to be angered by rational arguments because we fear they may change our thinking.  

Ken Frederic of Bristol is a member of a group of concerned Midcoast citizens who meet to discuss issues of public interest. Their weekly column “Another View” has earned several awards from the Maine Press Association.

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