Are the choices in this year’s presidential election so sorry that thinking Americans might as well just sit it out? One of my respected colleagues at The Independent, opinion editor Jason Gottfried, postulates that the answer to the question is “yes” in his piece, “Mainstream media vs. alternative media in the Clinton/Trump election.” His argument is persuasive.
He condemns both the mainstream media and the alt-right media for belching forth the agreed-upon narrative of the political wings they represent. Only by persistence and a willingness to keep an open mind will the diligent reader discover the unabashedly ugly truth about both presidential candidates. Of the two, Gottfried reasons after a perusal of the sources he cites, Clinton is the worse choice. Trump, of course, is no prize, and on this Jason and I wholeheartedly agree. But not to vote for a presidential candidate and instead cast ballots only in down-ticket races? Here we part ways.
I’ve just returned from spending two weeks in China. China is the second communist country I’ve visited in the last several years. The other was Russia in 2003. In both instances, the government-trained, sanctioned, and monitored guides assured us that life in their respective countries was pretty darn good. I was not convinced.
When questioned about the plight of the homeless in Shanghai, our Chinese guide assured us that there really wasn’t much of a problem with homeless persons anywhere in the country, despite the fact that we had just passed a city park in which several sleeping figures lay on the ground, covered in tattered rags. In another instance, our tour coach whizzed past cement pillars supporting a monorail track. The pillars were bore angry, black writing in Chinese pictographs. When questioned about these, our guide denied that they were gang signs and quickly changed the subject.
I don’t fault our guides. They have a job to do, and they perform it admirably. In fact, I’m sure most of what they told us they actually believe. I can even imagine myself being in their shoes. I would want to portray my country in it’s best light to foreign tourists. We are products of our environments, our guides and I. We grew up being told that our government officials had our best interests at heart. Mostly.
I, however, have the benefit of living in a country where questioning our government is not simply acceptable, it is nearly mandatory. Writers like my colleague, Gottfried, don’t risk losing his job, having his housing confiscated, or the safety of his friends and family compromised when he expresses his thoughts even though they are contrary to conventional wisdom. (That is, unless you accept the premise of Clinton kill list Gottfried cites.)
In China, however, the central government and it’s massive bureaucracy have perfected the art of controlling every aspect of the lives of its citizens. For example, the government owns every square meter of land in the country. If a citizen’s land is needed for a government project, say a dam or a highway, the land is “taken.” The citizen and family are relocated into one of the thousands of high-rise apartment complexes that seem to crop up overnight. Repeatedly, my traveling companions and I questioned our guides about how the “displaced” felt about these mandatory moves. “They like,” we were told. “Apartments always bigger, more modern, and safer.” The lucky ones also receive a pension and medical benefits. And a job. A government job, like cleaning the airports. “They like…”
We happened to be in China over the Moon Festival, which fell on Thursday in some complex calculation of the lunar calendar and the full moon. Our guide explained that since the date fell on Thursday, no one worked on Friday so that they could have a three-day weekend. Everyone, however, did work on Sunday, so the government got back on Sunday what it seems to so generously bestow on Friday. When we asked how this arrangement was decided, we were told this: At the beginning of each calendar year, the central government sends out a notice announcing the calendar for the entire country, nearly all of the 1.3 billion citizens. Our guides were working that day because they were employed by a U.S. company that had an agreement with the Chinese government. Can you even begin to picture such an arrangement working in this country? Of course not.
Our relationship with our government is complicated, as is that of the citizens of communist countries. I am no scholar of the topic, but this I understand: We value our individual rights in a way that I suspect our guides would struggle to comprehend, much less embrace. We have certain expectations that are so intrinsic to our American soul that we barely notice them until or unless they are threatened. Among them are the right to independence of thought, the right to voice our disagreement, and the right to act upon our beliefs.
The First Amendment of the Constitution protects the media — mainstream, alt-right and independent — from government interference. Thus, my friend Jason has not only access to sources on which to base his opinion but also the right to express it publicly without government censorship.
And I have a right to say this: We cannot afford to sit out this presidential election if we value in any way whatsoever the rights we possess. Will one vote make a difference? Answer that for yourself. Is the entire political system corrupt and worthy of the citizenry turning its collective back on it? Befouled by greed and money? Yes. But I am an American, not a Chinese. It is not only my right but also my responsibility to vote as it is equally as much Gottfried’s right to refrain from casting a top-of-the-ballot vote.