As a white male corporate lawyer, I’m sometimes the only progressive Democrat in the room. I’d like to change the political opinions of my colleagues and clients, but I’ve learned that mature business leaders are not always open to political conversion therapy. What this means, though, is that I sometimes catch myself attempting to speak on behalf of all progressive Democrats, which is tough.
Since November 2016, I’ve been defending Hillary Clinton an awful lot — not because of anything she has or hasn’t done, but because many Republicans defend casting their ballot for President Donald Trump by saying, “Who was I supposed to vote for, crooked Hillary? She’s awful! Did you hear about the e-mails?”
Well, I’m not defending her anymore. The 2016 election is over. Trump is president. But as conservative pundit George Will recently pointed out, Trump’s presidency is temporary, just like every president’s before him.
The debate must turn from us versus them, red versus blue and urban versus rural to a more productive discussion about what sort of country and state we want to be. Who we are is directly reflected in whom we elect as our leaders. Sure, the game is tough. Money talks and negative campaigns often win. But while the rules of the game should be improved, it’s the voters who make them. It may be an easy out to say, “Don’t hate the player, hate the game,” but that cliché doesn’t work in the context of democracy, where the players are obligated to the collective front office: we the people.
Player politicians establish policy, enact legislation and execute rules and regulations. They decide whether the location of an embassy or a peaceful resolution of generational conflict is more important. They decide whether early childhood education or tax cuts for the rich are priorities. So if we want a new game, we must elect different players.
Perhaps Missourians thought that’s what we were getting when we voted for Trump and former Gov. Eric Greitens. But the “moneyball” they played to victory only magnifies the flaws in the current system. They used dark money and data analytics to build support in the most cynical and short-term ways. They have no real friendships, allies or partnerships. Their relationships are purely transactional and lack trust or understanding of shared priorities or goals. It’s all about the here and now: How can you help me advance my interest in gaining wealth, power or both?
Of course, this is a tale as old as time, but the ending is not predetermined. The promise of democracy is that we can change course. We don’t have to live, work and play Trump’s or Greitens’ game. It’s not theirs. It’s ours, and we can change it whenever we choose. We just have to be willing to shake up the roster and get back to the task of creating a more perfect union by providing more opportunity for more people every day.
The constitutional process led to Greitens’ resignation, and there’s hope that Gov. Mike Parsons can bring some integrity back to the office. Meanwhile, indictments continue to pile up around the Trump administration. These legal mechanisms are designed to get us out of a bad inning, but they are not intended to put us on track for a winning record, nor can they by themselves. They are a minor lineup adjustment: They can sway public opinion and nudge us in one direction or another, but the quality of the team is decided through the electoral process.
The 2018 midterms are an excellent opportunity to begin rebuilding the roster. Primaries are just around the corner in August, and the general election follows in November. Kansas City will have the chance to set its lineup card in the April 2019 municipal elections.
All summer long, Royals games, radio broadcasts and social media will be interrupted by negative ads and misinformation funded by dark money and special interests. But don’t let it get you down. Be a citizen. Learn about the issues and the candidates. And — most importantly — make sure you’re properly registered and ready to vote on Election Day.
If you hate the game, it’s time to change the players.
Casey Martin is a lawyer and the chairman of the Kansas City Board of Election Commissioners.