Infantilizing the Electorate

It comes as no surprise to anyone that an awful lot of pundits are over-analyzing an off-year election in which the results were pretty affirming of the status quo. A lot of that is fueled by the fact that Kentucky elected a Republican Governor for the first time since 2003. Of course, one has to balance that with the fact that Kentucky went for Mitt Romney by 22% in 2012 and regularly sends two Republicans to the Senate – one of whom is the current Majority Leader and another is running for president.

But Ron Fournier took the opportunity to return to a theme that deserves some scrutiny. His article is titled, Kentucky’s Trump with the subtitle: “If the next president doesn’t heal our politics, angry voters may reach further to the dangerous fringes.” Here’s how he articulates that in the article:

Should the next president – like the past two – break his or her promise to unite the country and address the nation’s long term problems, the anger will boil hotter, voter backlash will hit harder, and the path to power for a hate spewing megalomaniac will be easier.

Finding ways to address the nation’s long-term problems will certainly be on the next President’s desk. But it is important that we ask ourselves what it means to suggest that it is a president’s job to unite the country.

Need I remind Mr. Fournier that the first three words of our Constitution are “we the people?” It just so happens that right now “we the people” are divided. There are a lot of reasons for that. Most notable is that we are in the midst of huge changes when it comes to demographics, cultural mores and an increasingly globalized economy. Add to all of that the fact that we have one political party that is intent on fear-mongering about those changes and a media that is dedicated to sensationalism over substance and you get a pretty toxic mix.

To assume that – in the midst of all that – a president can simply unite us by sending us all to our rooms for a time-out is to infantalize the electorate. President Obama has given us an alternative story of America in an attempt to inspire unity in speech after speech after speech. He has been willing to reach out his hand to work with the opposition to the point that a lot of people in his own party accuse him of being “naive.” The one thing he has not been willing to do is let the American people suffer because of the divide in our politics as long as there is something he can do about it.

Ultimately it is not up to the president whether or not we continue to be divided or come together to solve the challenges that face us…at least not as long as we live in a democracy. As much as there are times when I’d love to see a leader tell the malcontents to “sit down and shut up,” I fear a system where that can happen more than I do the malcontents.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.