It’s Time to Up Our Citizenship Game

Posted on May 6, 2016 in Politics

America isn’t easy. America is advanced citizenship. You’ve got to want it bad, cause it’s gonna put up a fight.

That line, from the 1995 film The American President, has stuck with me from my first viewing. Aaron Sorkin wrote the script for that film. He also created the long-running network series The West Wing, one of my all-time favorites.

Advanced citizenship. For the American experiment—liberty and justice for all and the protection of inalienable rights endowed by our Creator—to reach its full potential, all of us must be full participants. All of us must engage the fullness of what our representative system of government affords. The more we engage, the better it works.

Not all of us are called to public office. Not all of us are fueled by activism, direct engagement in advancing issues we believe in.

But we are all endowed with the right—and responsibility—to engage in the most basic act of democracy.


Ballot 550pxWe’re on the cusp of what most people who track such things say will be the most contentious presidential election campaign in American history. The perceived stakes are enormous, the polarization as extreme as I can remember.

This isn’t the first time when many American voters approach a presidential election with a “lesser of two evils” assessment of the candidates. Honestly, I’m still undecided. We Californians are last up in the primary season. We haven’t had a deciding role in either party’s nominee for more than half a century. Looks like we won’t this time, either.

But in the swirl of record-breaking rudeness and vitriol, something even more disturbing seems to be growing.

People deciding to not vote. To not be heard.

Sure, sitting it out is a way of making yourself heard. But to what end? Many will disagree, but I believe there’s no such thing as a meaningless vote. Don’t like the major party candidates? Pick another. Or write in someone you can support.

And, yes, bad actors have and continue to work to deprive some of that right. Fraud and intimidation crouch outside polling places. Every injustice must be opposed.

But please, don’t stay home. There are other elective offices at stake. All of us need to vote for our representative in the House. A third of the Senate is in play. There are state and local offices to be filled.

In the swirl of record-breaking rudeness and vitriol, something even more disturbing seems to be growing. People deciding not to vote.

I urge you to not let the crumbling of civility in American politics push you to the sidelines.

Here’s another line from The American President that is a challenge for our day:

You want free speech? Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours.

Liberty is messy. Acting with respect and dignity toward people who are different than us or stand for things we oppose, even abhor, takes a level of maturity that is in short supply.

America is advanced citizenship. We need to up our game.