The 2017 elections are behind us, and as we slowly remove from our lawns and fences the posters and placards that championed our favored gladiators in the sport of politics, another inevitable transition looms: Our favored candidates will leave the comforting cradle of citizenship and join the ranks of the despised. The dirty. The swamp dwellers. The politicians.
Too many of us talk about “government” like it is an entity. A monster. A creeping, unearthly thing that swallows our savings and steals our liberties. We talk about politicians and government officials like they are the slime of the earth. It is a bona fide irony that the offhand epithet “drain the swamp” had such appeal that it became a battle cry from someone who himself was seeking to become the president — denigrating the bureaucracy while seeking to become its chief executive.
The ironies on this subject run deep. Of all the us-versus-them narratives in this country, perhaps the most enduring is that of the ordinary individual versus the political machine and the government bureaucracy. Yet we revere the symbols of our nation, which declare our motto "e pluribus unum." Out of many, one nation, indivisible. A nation run by a government of, for and by the people. By you and me. Federal, state, local, individual.
Our system of government has many layers, but don’t be deceived: You and I are at its helm.
Government isn’t an it. And it isn’t a them. In our country, this should be our greatest pride and the most central tenet of our political discourse: Government is us. We are a free people who are self-governing. We are a great nationwide parliament full of diverse interests and dreams, whose active participation in the process of democracy neither begins nor ends at the ballot box.
Elected representatives serve as a voice for the citizens in their cities, counties, states or districts. And in the absence of our grass-roots leadership, they will be left to their own individual devices. They are hungry for our guidance, our leadership. Our letters and phone calls. Our ideas. We have chosen people to represent us, but they cannot represent us if they don’t know who we are.
And who are we?
We the people.
Have we abdicated the thrones of our citizenship? Are we absentee lawmakers, whose voices in behalf of our families and communities have fallen silent because we are so embroiled in our own self-interested pursuits? I am not just talking about voting, though that would, of course, be a good place to start. Our 2017 statewide voter turnout was an abysmal 20 percent in Utah. There is no excuse for skipping Election Day. None.
In "Democracy in America," Alexis de Tocqueville wrote, “The health of a democratic society may be measured by the quality of functions performed by private citizens.” If government is a swamp, then we citizens are the slime.
Do you feel your interests are underrepresented by our government? Then your first sentence in our conversation should be about what views you would like to see espoused. And your second should be about what you have already done to make it happen. Your third should be about what you plan to do next, and your fourth should be an invitation to join you.
Did you call an elected leader to share your views? Convince a friend? Make a donation? Volunteer your time? Write a letter? Join or start a movement?
It’s time to form a more perfect union. Let’s each begin by identifying the issue most important to us and dedicating some time and effort to making a difference. Working toward a goal will always be more empowering than shifting the blame.
Eva Witesman is an associate professor at the Romney Institute of Public Management at Brigham Young University.