Why it’s time to fix Amer­ica’s po­lit­i­cal sys­tem

It has been a tu­mul­tuous and di­vi­sive US elec­tion year. With ty­coon Don­ald Trump set to face off against Hil­lary Clin­ton, US ex­pa­tri­ate Ash­ley Lane re­flects on watch­ing the ex­tra­or­di­nary race from afar

The National - News - The Review - - Round Up - Ash­ley Lane is as­sis­tant fea­tures ed­i­tor of mag­a­zines at The Na­tional.

On Jan­uary 20, 2009, I sat alone in the staffroom of the sec­ondary school where I worked in the UK. I watched, from 3,000 miles away, as the United States swore in its first African-Amer­i­can pres­i­dent.

As my coun­try made his­tory, I could feel a shift in the ether. The na­tion had en­tered a new phase, one that gave mil­lions hope for a brighter fu­ture – and a chance to rec­tify the dam­age done through over­seas wars and the fi­nan­cial crash. Fast-for­ward nearly eight years and I am now more than 6,000 miles away, watch­ing from the UAE as my coun­try sits on the edge of an im­plo­sion. We are, both gov­ern­ment and peo­ple, at a break­ing point. The past two pres­i­den­tial terms have wit­nessed a grow­ing and di­vi­sive par­ti­san­ship – one that has felt like an end­less tug-of-war game where few have won.

Amer­ica and its pol­i­tics are more po­larised than at any point in the past two decades, ac­cord­ing to a 2014 Pew Re­search Cen­ter poll. Yet lit­tle seems to com­pare to the un­bri­dled dis­con­tent and di­vi­sive­ness that, over the course of this year’s elec­tion cam­paigns, seems to have seeped into the very fab­ric of our na­tion.

Of course you don’t need statis­tics to un­der­stand just how volatile things have be­come. One needs sim­ply to log onto Twit­ter or Face­book, watch the news, or take a look at the “com­ments sec­tion” un­der most po­lit­i­cal op-eds for a glimpse of the chaos. Be­fore my eyes, we are shed­ding our self-im­age as a na­tion founded on re­li­gious tol­er­ance and one which has wel­comed im­mi­grants from across the world, to be­come one char­ac­terised by dog­ma­tism, fear and iso­la­tion­ism.

Watch­ing ev­ery­thing play out, with a con­stant sense of dread, does make me won­der whether I’ve sim­ply be­come too cyn­i­cal. Per­haps some­thing about liv­ing abroad has re­moved the rose-tinted glasses of pa­tri­o­tism and has, in­stead, left me see­ing ev­ery­thing in shades of grey.

My mother tried to re­as­sure me dur­ing a re­cent phone call one evening that it’s not re­ally as bad as it seems. I’m not sold. Even tak­ing into con­sid­er­a­tion how far (phys­i­cally) re­moved I am from the elec­tion, these past few months have sparked in me a new kind of em­bar­rass­ment – one that far ex­ceeds what I felt dur­ing the (sec­ond) Ge­orge Bush era.

I am ashamed when asked ques­tions like “What is hap­pen­ing to your coun­try?” as those elected to lead us refuse to come to­gether to find a so­lu­tion fol­low­ing yet an­other mass shoot­ing. I can feel my stom­ach churn as I watch politi­cian after politi­cian take to so­cial me­dia to sling school­yard in­sults at op­po­nents, as though this is ac­cept­able be­hav­iour. I fear for the safety of friends and my cousin’s two lit­tle boys when I see yet an­other black man gunned down in day­light by those sworn to pro­tect them. I am equally an­gry when our of­fi­cials re­spond to these all too of­ten oc­cur­rences with #Al­lLivesMat­ter, a dis­play of their re­fusal to ac­knowl­edge the sys­tem­atic racism that still plagues the US.

And I am at a loss for what to say to friends and col­leagues when the pre­sump­tive Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee Don­ald Trump pro­poses to ban them from en­ter­ing the US.

And it isn’t as if my em­bar­rass­ment is re­served for one side of the po­lit­i­cal aisle. I watch as the Demo­cratic Party, which I sup­port, tears it­self apart through in­fight­ing and lies. Friends vent their frus­tra­tion at politi­cians of the party who say they’re “for the peo­ple”, while they wil­fully con­tinue to ne­glect marginalised groups.

Ad­di­tion­ally, poli­cies such as the stu­dent loan for­give­ness plan give the il­lu­sion of be­ing pro­gres­sive, but will mainly ben­e­fit a small num­ber of priv­i­leged Amer­i­cans.

As for an un­writ­ten ex­pec­ta­tion that I will vote for a can­di­date sim­ply be­cause we share the same gono­some, I’ll be the first to ad­mit that I’d be over the moon to see a woman fi­nally elected into of­fice, when Hil­lary Clin­ton for­mally gets the nom­i­na­tion, but I'm still not con­vinced of both her val­ues and abil­ity to lead ef­fec­tively.

Yet out of the hate and frac­tured al­liances has sprung a new wave of po­lit­i­cal and so­cial move­ments, and with it, a sense that all is not lost. The cam­paign of Bernie San­ders – who en­dorsed Clin­ton on Tues­day – alone was tes­ta­ment to the fact that the Amer­i­can peo­ple are not happy with the cur­rent po­lit­i­cal sys­tem, nor with the type of can­di­dates we see year after year.

We wit­nessed 3,000 ac­tivists gather in Chicago in June for The Peo­ple’s Sum­mit, a three-day event that aimed to build a move­ment to trans­form the na­tion and the planet. Top­ics in­cluded mass in­car­cer­a­tion and crim­i­nal jus­tice re­form, cli­mate change, im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy, the fight for free higher ed­u­ca­tion, and achiev­ing Con­sti­tu­tional pay eq­uity for women. And even the Green Party and its pre­sump­tive nom­i­nee Jill Stein have gained mo­men­tum as a po­ten­tial al­ter­na­tive to the sta­tus quo.

As the coun­try read­ies it­self for the 2016 Repub­li­can Na­tional Con­ven­tion on Mon­day, there has never been a bet­ter time to take a step back and re­flect. We need to take a good, hard look at what we have be­come. Is this the po­lit­i­cal – and so­cial – tra­jec­tory we want to con­tinue down, or are we ready to put petty dif­fer­ences aside and work to­gether for the greater good of our na­tion?

I’d like to think, to some ex­tent, the Amer­i­can peo­ple will choose the lat­ter. Per­haps, de­spite my cyn­i­cism, there’s still a part of me that wants to see my coun­try in spec­tac­u­lar colour once more.

Win McNamee / Getty Images

For­mer Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Bernie San­ders at a min­i­mum wage rally in Wash­ing­ton DC.

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