Despite a national civil war and a violent attack upon the 2020 presidential election results, neither major American political party nor their leaderships has undertaken steps toward creating channels for an improved and effective process of dialogue between elected officials and the governed.
When the Tea Party exploded upon the scene in early 2009 following the election of Barack Obama, commentators and pundits attributed the eruption to concerns in a narrow channel largely about government spending. The spark for the party was a comment by a CNBC commentator who condemned Obama’s plans for a mortgage bailout as rewarding losers in the housing market.
The GOP, led by its conservative cadres, quickly adopted the movement and added critical commentary about big government being out of touch with the electorate. Under the nation’s 45th president, this populist messaging was reiterated, repeated consistently, and amplified on social media and at political rallies extensively propagated in the media. The deaths of Blacks at the hands of police later emerged as a countervailing force which, itself, was amplified by the COVID pandemic. Like its national competitor, Democrats have seized this combination to pass the $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill, and House Democrats have passed HR 1, a comprehensive voting rights and campaign finance reform bill called the For the People Act.
Neither [political party] has executed substantial structural change to facilitate the nexus between the wishes of the governed and the governors.
Both national political parties have absorbed political opportunities to fashion and capitalize for their campaigns and electoral potential. At the same time, neither has executed substantial structural change to facilitate the nexus between the wishes of the governed and the governors. It’s almost as though the often expressed fears of the Founding Fathers over excited rabble forces consuming government continue to threaten a reasoned and stable polity. It feels like thae major political parties are determined to create a sound barrier enabling candidates and elected officials to ignore voters and constituents. Tone deafness remains a useful quality among the elected.
In the Commonwealth, campaign finance reform has consistently rated at the top of constituent concerns among voters. Such reform is at the core of building confidence and public trust in the governance relationship. Lobbyist and big, unknown PAC fund sources generate suspicion where none needs to exist except that cherished by elected officials. Some 30 years ago, former Gov. Doug Wilder headed a commission that recommended a series of basic reforms. One item of abiding concern in Virginia is the unlimited freedom legislators have to spend campaign contributions for any purpose, often ones that appear purely personal and self-indulgent, including foreign travel, private school tuition, etc. Virginia is only one of five states that has no limits in this regard.
In its recent special session, the General Assembly’s House of Delegates voted 100-0 (that’s all of them, if you did not know) to prohibit this loophole. Before the session closed, the Assembly’s Senate voted by voice (i.e., no record) to kill the proposal. Thus, 40 legislators overcame the vote of 100 without a mark on the record. This display of tone deafness is not limited to campaign finance reform. It appears to be a necessary quality of character among elected officials. The bicameral legislature often affords legislators with an excuse for the failure of a popular measure.
Recently, The New York Times published a lengthy article about the political dynamics in rural Virginia, specifically Franklin County and Rocky Mount (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/08/us/rocky-mount-capitol-riot-black-lives-matter.html). A number of local residents were interviewed and their words, while differing about political matters, bear a similar gravamen, falling within the cone of silence that envelops the senses of far too many representatives. The color of the skin of the speakers does not separate the sentiments. Listen to the implicit pleas in these excerpts:
They all say, “You know Franklin County is different.” We got good families here, everybody likes everybody. Well, the people in power are satisfied. The rest of us are not satisfied.
Who keeps America together? Lower-class Americans. We are trying to make a future and keep our home stuff together. The elites, they have nothing better to do. So, they want to rip it apart.
An older America, that is honor bound and that had chivalry. Families have fallen apart – White and Black. Now the country is just a lot of disconnected people who are bored and lonely and obsessed with being entertained and the political class is one big scheming mass [that] is profiting from it.
Just stand up for yourself. Say no. Not just to the government taking your rights or property. But to anyone who tries to take advantage of you.
Civility has left me. I’m tired of taking the high road and being beat by those who cheat, lie, and steal to win and then allow their medial to paint me as the bad guy. I won’t be disenfranchised. I’ll follow the path our founders gave us. Redress of grievance, civil disobedience and then open armed rebellion.
These observations reflect a core of frustration echoed broadly contributing to a deep dissonance in governance between the governed and the governors. The unrecorded dismissal by Virginia senators is but one small example of the symptom. At a more global level, the emergence of the Tea Party was another. Now, elected leaders are riding a tidal wave of clamor from citizens demanding that their voices be heard. If they continue to be ignored, then “open armed rebellion” may sound attractive to some. Tone deafness is not disabling and cones of silence can be removed.