It’s time to vote

A Jefferson County poll worker shows off ‘I Voted’ stickers Oct. 24 when early voting began throughout New York state. Sydney Schaefer/Watertown Daily Times

One of the most important duties we have in maintaining our system of governance has become a point of great division.

In other words, the process we undertake to keep our nation tied together is the very thing that is tearing us apart. How can we as a society survive if we don’t find a way to heal some of these wounds?

Voting is integral to keeping the country moving forward. It’s how we decide who will represent us in making essential choices designed to improve our condition.

But the debates over selecting public officials have reached a fever pitch. In addition, the acrimony expressed toward our fellow citizens for supporting “the wrong candidate” lasts much longer than any election cycle.

Many of us have mistakenly come to believe that loathing each other is a moral imperative. This is, in fact, our quickest route to self-destruction. We need to recalibrate our political compass and focus more on what unites us rather than what divides us.

Our presidential election is a prime example. The two leading candidates, President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, both elicit strong reactions from critics. This opposition often overwhelms the support people feel for their preferred contender.

And to some extent, this is understandable. Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden have lugged heavy baggage into this year’s campaign. There is obviously a lot to dislike about each individual.

The problem here is that pointing out these flaws has become a cottage industry within our electoral process. Many Americans believe it more crucial to rip the candidate they oppose to shreds than build up the candidate they favor.

A lack of genuine leadership in our country has contributed significantly to this phenomenon. The phrase “politician” is now a pejorative term. It defines individuals willing to do whatever they can to achieve or retain power and to advance their own interests.

However, the origins of the word “politics” describe the practice of prudently conducting the affairs of the city/state. A politician, therefore, should be someone naturally inclined to serving on behalf of members of the public. This should be a declaration of praise, not one of contempt.

How did we manage to get so turned around on this? And more importantly, how do we reverse the course of deterioration we’re plotting?

Participating in Tuesday’s election is critical. Early voting began last weekend in New York, and numerous people took advantage of this opportunity. Given the seriousness of the novel coronavirus pandemic, having different options to vote is a good development.

It was wonderful seeing so many voters willing to wait in long lines to cast their ballots. We commend all the county board of elections officials and staffers who have worked so hard to maintain this process under very trying conditions.

People need to be as familiar as they can with the candidates running for elective office, what they stand for and how their actions will affect all of us. And then voters must rely on their conscience to make the best decisions possible.

In some races, we won’t have very good choices. Voting for candidates on alternative party lines is, from time to time, an effective way of letting major political organizations know that they should develop better leadership for the next election.

Ultimately, we have to move candidates away from the extreme fringes and toward the center of political debate. Yes, we should want those running for office to stand on principles. But our system grinds to a halt when we abandon the notion of compromise.

We do our best when we recognize the need for give-and-take while drafting public policies. Our form of government isn’t perfect by any means. However, it’s useless if we focus solely on what momentarily delights us as individuals rather than what in the long term benefits us as a whole.

We must create a new generation of leaders in this country. These are people who have a legitimate interest in achieving worthwhile goals.

They take responsibility for their actions and allow others to hold them accountable when they’re in the wrong. They build up the strengths of subordinates and share credit for fulfilled tasks. They inspire a following by bringing out the best in everyone around them.

Leaders don’t browbeat others into submission or scare them to death. They don’t need to tear down perceived rivals because their positive qualities make them stand out in any field.

We’re a long way from realizing these aspirations, but we can’t give up hope. Election by election, we should demand candidates who better demonstrate these qualities.

Improving the social climate starts with acknowledging the value we all have as citizens. We may fiercely oppose the ideas expressed by others. But we must recognize that everyone has a stake in the electoral process and that our nation grows stronger if we approach this in a spirit of collaboration.

The give-and-take required between our legislative authorities is also necessary among us citizens. Understanding the diverse interests that our government has to serve will make us more mindful of everything our society needs.

So we must vote not just for ourselves but for our neighbors as well. Merely appeasing our own desires is no longer a viable option.

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