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A note from Mr. McFeely

It’s the brightest of times. It’s the darkest of times. It’s the calendar of hope. It’s the politics of despair.

Daylight time is poised to return at 2 a.m. Sunday, but our sunnier dispositions first will have to battle out from under a shadow cast by the start of early voting in Kansas’ presidential preference primary.

Choosing between a candidate who at times seems so out of it that he isn’t really running things and a candidate who runs things so personally that he might declare himself president for life is blotting out hope for democracy as surely as our impending solar eclipse will blot out sunlight for a couple of hours April 8.

It’s not just that we seem to be facing an unwelcome rerun of a made-for-reality-TV melodrama. It’s that there’s precious little our votes, even at this point, can do to change things.

And therein lies the danger to democracy. Give people a sense that their voice matters, and they’ll pay attention to issues. Make them think they have no power, and they’ll resort to evaluating everything by slogans and images. They’ll even stop doing things like reading to find out what’s true and instead will rely on the echo chamber of social media to adopt radically polarized views. Sound familiar?

Unless we want to move to a swing state or one that has a very early presidential caucus or primary, there’s precious little we Kansans can do about this nationally. But there are things we can do locally to keep from falling on the wrong side of what scientists call the heuristic-systematic matrix of persuasion.

Yes, it’s refreshing that most school boards and now Marion’s city council no longer seem to experience the kind of temper tantrums that marked previous regimes. Instead, elected officials all seem to be singing from a PBS for Kids hymnal:

It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood,

A beautiful day for a neighbor,

Would you be mine?

Could you be mine?

Followed by a chorus of:

I love you.

You love me.

We’re a happy family,

With a great big hug and a kiss from me to you.

Won’t you say you love me, too?

Those mantras may work fine for children watching Mister Rogers and Barney the Dinosaur, but they’re deadly dirges for adults trying to practice democracy.

Avoiding public discussion of tough issues won’t prevent those issues from being addressed. It just means they will be addressed by bureaucrats or autocrats, outside of public view.

Some bureaucrats and autocrats are enlightened and benevolent, but you never know when they might suddenly become selfish and bullying, even to the point of rivaling legendary dictators.

Democracy is a participatory sport. It has a winning season only when we, the people, are willing to study issues, form informed opinions, and voice them.

While it’s nice to feel the love, it’s vital that we also embrace the untidiness of hearing diverse, even uninformed opinions, and working together to find the best solutions.

Tough issues face all governmental bodies. Meeting them head-on instead of allowing them to slide by is what makes democracy work. It has since 1776. Let’s not give it up just because it’s untidy.

— ERIC MEYER

Last modified March 7, 2024

 

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