Downtown

Almonds, walnuts, chestnuts, peanuts (a legume, actually), Brazil, macadamia and cashew. Some are honey roasted, some spicy — even mixed.

If you’re into nuts, any grocery store is likely to have a variety you like.

Now examine your choices in politics. How many political parties represent candidates who are ever seriously considered, especially the higher up the ticket you go?

Two.

Two political parties with opposite philosophies on most everything wouldn’t pose a problem if everyone involved were rational, if there were ways both sides could meet in the middle, if you removed the petty vindictiveness and gang-warfare mentality that grows stronger every election cycle. 

The Brookings Institution published an article titled, “The Disappearing Political Center: Congress and the Incredible Shrinking Middle” — in 1996! That was nearly 25 years ago and, if anything, the issue is getting exponentially worse. Take where we are today: The Associated Press reported last week that President Trump’s administration was looking to enact “regulations and orders that it hopes will box in President-elect Joe Biden’s administration on numerous foreign policy matters and cement President Donald Trump’s ‘America First’ legacy in international affairs.”

That’s one recent example. But the political demolition derby isn’t limited to foreign affairs, and many major last-minute or ingrained policy decisions made during the Trump era are likely to be overturned by Biden’s administration anyway. If power switches parties in two years, four years, it will happen again.

This is no way to govern or be governed.

The whiplash effect we’re likely to see for the foreseeable future is regrettable because most Americans don’t live at the far reaches of the political spectrum. Most want moderate governance that represents the majority of the population. That means things like fiscal responsibility while preserving social safety nets; a strong national defense backed by the wisdom to keep us out of conflicts that are none of our business; laws recognizing every American as being equal while supporting those who legally wish to become Americans. It also means middle-class Americans struggling to get by should not be paying more in taxes than the wealthiest among us.

Most just want a functioning system that represents them. The good news is, fixing this problem could begin in your own backyard.

Locally, we need to consider serving on City Council a full-time job — because it is. Councilors regularly clock more than 40 hours a week, all for just over $6,000… a year! That has severely limited the pool of candidates. Better pay would mean younger candidates could realistically consider political service while devoting the time needed to do it right.

More broadly, substantial campaign finance reform is still needed to level the playing field. Real representation will never be achieved while millionaires and billionaires make all the rules. And Congress should seriously consider implementing term limits. The golden ring for career politicians, it seems, is less often about meeting the needs of your constituency and more about retaining power for oneself and one’s party.

And maybe now would be a good time to at least discuss ranked-choice voting and alternatives to the Electoral College. The truth is, a vote in Wyoming holds far more sway than a vote in California. And if every vote counted the same, why wouldn’t candidates campaign in every state? Would it force them to campaign more toward the middle? 

Those who argue for the Electoral College say it equates to better representation, but come a presidential election year, doesn’t it seem like the same states consistently make up our nation’s “battleground?”

Bringing us to the last point: Our political institutions shouldn’t be considered war zones. The adversarial language that has crept into political discourse will do nothing but pull the country further apart. Somewhere along the way, the rest of the population has taken its cues from the leading class and forgotten that we all play for the same team.

Like your local grocery store, American politics is filled with nuts. Unlike the store, you rarely see them mixed anymore. And if you’re like most Americans, you don’t want to keep buying what you’re being sold.