Salmon Upstream, LLC

Developing and implementing real-world community solutions.

The Problem

It's not the people, it is the system.

It’s not the people, it is the system.

I am going to say it as many different times as I can, as many different ways as I can, until I sound as if I am going on like another conspiracy theory nut. Because if we don’t recognize the problem, we can’t fix it. And if we do, then maybe you won’t think I am so crazy in this endeavor. There is nothing preventing we the people from fixing the system. We just have to want to do it.

Think of the repercussions of allowing an anything-goes election process. It means the mud-slinging candidate has a huge advantage, and we know this. Human nature being what it is, if you aren’t particularly concerned about an election, you won’t be particularly concerned about actually voting. But if you are pretty sure bad things will happen if someone is elected to office, your desire to prevent that is a far stronger drive. Fear is more likely to make you take an interest, to get you to the polls, to get you to actively gather friends and family to the cause. It turns off logic, making you less likely to actually think about anything that is being said, and instead just focus on preventing catastrophe. It is a much better way to gather support. And all of this just runs rough-shod over any opposing candidate who tries to take the high road.

We do this – we allow this free-for-all – because we hold freedom of speech so dear. However, we curb freedom of speech all the time for specific purposes. Boardrooms, court houses, council chambers… there are times when procedure and decorum are necessary to overcome pandemonium and allow logical consideration of arguments. Why should we forgo this concept in selecting our leaders? Is this not one of the most important procedures in our society? Didn’t we set up our government in a way to allow fair and just representation, rejecting systems of the past that selected rulers through violence or birthright? Then why let it go awry when we are so close to our goal?

We know the answer, don’t we: the people embedded in the current system have adapted to where they benefit from the very flaws that threaten to destroy us. The current politicians and their political parties have become exceptional at manipulating the system to the point that it is virtually impossible to infiltrate or circumvent their power.

To understand why, look at the environment in which they live. What is the most important part of being a politician? Is it ability to introduce clever, beneficial legislation? Or is it the simple ability to campaign? Let’s face it, rarely does a politician’s actions affect their election results. It simply comes down to the way they are presented to the world immediately prior to an election. This is why incumbents have a significant advantage.

How many times have you heard that you can’t tell what the truth is, because you can’t trust the source of the information? So why not decide for ourselves exactly how we want this to go? Why do we persist allowing it to go the way they say it should go, instead of making the rules ourselves? We as citizens need to lay down specific requirements for what we expect from elected officials. And that should include their behavior during the election process.

People were all up in arms when Donald Trump refused to present his tax returns. Well suck it up buttercup, because there is nothing that says this is a requirement. Should it be? I kinda think so. I feel like presidential candidates should be held to a very high standard. In fact, I think they should be held to a REALLY high standard, as it’s a relatively important position. I don’t think it is too much to ask that we make some requirements beyond just 35 years old and a natural born citizen. In fact, I think we are complete fools to continue with this ludicrous plan.

I want a nice mix of presidential candidates that are mind-bendingly awesome, not a group of group of folks where I question their cleverness, not to mention their integrity and honesty. Why should we not demand that these people have an abundance of the specific qualities that we as citizens determine to be of utmost importance to us in a leader? Why should we continue with a system that allows candidates that near on half the country despises?

The first thing we need to do is decide what qualities we truly desire. Before you start on things like honesty and integrity, let’s address the elephant in the room: should money be a prerequisite? Some feel it is important the wealthy people and institutions be able to “participate” in the political process. Personally, I feel that it prevents us from rationally addressing a few major issues. Like energy. But the influence of money is based on the campaign process. Without requirements for expensive campaigns, money has no means of exerting influence. You can’t actually pay a politician for a vote, that’s called bribery. But you can contribute without limits to a campaign. If elections were free, that would immediately snuff this routine unethical practice.

Free elections? What insanity is this? How is that even possible, holding an election that is completely funded by the government? Um, all we would have to do is decide that this is what we want. (Which is why I asked the questions first… some people are actually opposed to removing money from politics). Do you honestly believe that there is anything stopping us from assembling the information about candidates that voters need to know and putting it out to the people in a way that everyone can get to it? You realize that is all you actually need to do. There is no NEED for all the ads and propaganda, we just allow it, because, hey, free speech.

It’s not an infringement of free speech to expect more from candidates, to demand they adhere to certain rules, to require an honest, just-the-facts presentation of positions on issues. Debates, speeches, these are important tests and valuable demonstrations of the abilities of candidates, but those can also be administered with rules. Violate the rules, you are out. You want a shot at the title? Then play by the rules!

I am tired of people’s jaws hanging open at the mere suggestion that politicians be required to study certain material and take a test, like that is somehow an infringement of personal rights. More than one person suggested that this would be exclusive, because anyone should be able to serve in public office. Really? I think we should be tremendously exclusive when we select our leaders. If only we trained them as we do athletes. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see our political hopefuls starting as kids in public service, learning how to address issues like poverty and racism, studying the economics of taxation and trade, diplomacy, foreign relations? How amazing would it be to have a panel of candidates that stuns us with their knowledge and abilities, instead of leaving us wanting, throwing our collective hands in the air with a cry of “350 million people, and you bring us these people???”

But of course, I don’t expect our current batch of politicians are going to step up and ask to be tested. I fear the ability to run a successful campaign will be poor preparation for a demonstration of actual ability. So you can bet your last post-tax dollar that they will be less than receptive, and will claim all manner of injustice at these suggestions. “Free elections? People can’t buy me? And you expect me to have talent??? Heresy!!! These ideals go against basic American values!!!” To which I say: anyone who thinks like this is part of the problem. So let’s collectively force the solution.

It’s our country, we are supposed to be able to make the rules, so let’s take back control and bring back the democracy – for the people, by the people – that we signed up for.