I have always been annoyed and insulted when out-of-state money starts pouring in for political candidates who should be elected strictly on the basis of whether their constituents agree with them or not. Maybe I’m naïve because I live in Vermont. We don’t get a lot of national attention, partly because we have no clout in the political arena (Three electoral votes! Wow!), and partly because nowadays we can almost always be counted on to vote blue.
I suspect you Granite Staters are a bit more blasé about the practice of super-PACs flooding the coffers of various candidates, what with your first-in-the-nation primary status. Between your Legislature and Executive Council, there are nearly 500 people to be wined, dined and strong-armed for endorsements every four years as well as millions in political ad revenue to be reaped from groups like Moms for Apple Pie and Americans for Fairness in Everything. How could you be against apple pie? Or fairness?
It still doesn’t make it right in my mind, despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in 2010 in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission that decreed that corporations and political action committees can spend as much as they want to influence, and in some cases outright lie to, voters. Granny D had it right when she walked across the country to put an end to big money in politics.
And now I’m part of the problem.
Recently, out of complete desperation, I took some cash and stuffed it an envelope with an anonymous note and sent it off to Kentucky’s Democratic U.S. Senate Campaign Committee. I may not know yet who I’ll be voting for for president in 2020 but I sure as hell do know that I don’t want Republican Mitch McConnell of Kentucky to be the next Senate majority leader.
We all know McConnell, the turtle-headed guy whose main claims to fame seem to be obstructing every piece of legislation that arrives in the U.S. Senate and acting as President Trump’s slobbering lap dog. He’s the guy who always shows up in front of the cameras to defend accused rapists, white supremacists, weapons of mass murder and, for all I know, barbecued puppies as a time-honored tradition.
But as that envelope left my fingers and disappeared into the U.S. Postal Service mail slot, I felt a genuine pang. It wasn’t regret. It was sorrow. Because by putting that paltry donation in the mail, I was admitting to myself that I don’t really believe my vote matters anymore, that our system of democratic (small D) governance has been irretrievably broken.
The reason I sent cash anonymously was not because I’m ashamed of meddling in Kentucky politics. I simply didn’t want to be added to an email list, a phone bank or a Twitter feed. I didn’t want to be friends on Facebook. I just want McConnell gone.
And here’s the thing: I know hardly anything about the Commonwealth of Kentucky, except that it has bluegrass and coal mines and a glamorous annual horse race. (I didn’t even know it was a commonwealth until now.) For all I know, Kentuckians love McConnell. That thought depresses me even more. Because what am I doing living in a country where lots of people think he’s doing a great job?
Inevitably, that led me to wonder whether the United States of America has become just a concept, something that’s outlived its relevance. How can we survive as a country for the people, of the people and by the people if we disagree so vehemently over so many fundamental issues?
I used to believe Americans were united around some core ethical principles, even if we did fall short of the mark on many occasions. I’m no longer sure. But when I’m more worried about the dark influence of Moms for Apple Pie than Russian hackers, we have a problem. Maybe it’s time to divvy up our country into more manageable, regional mini-nations that have more in common and name it the Union of American States. Maybe Greenland would like to buy Vermont.
So I sent in my cash. It probably won’t even pay for the Democratic candidate’s daily ration of bottled water. It’s unlikely to make any difference to the U.S. Senate race in Kentucky. I will be at the polls in my hometown to cast my ballot in November 2020, but I’m not sure it will make a bit of difference on the national stage. And that makes me feel really sad.