No matter who we supported in this year’s election, we are all can breathe a sign of relief that the campaigning is over. With no more commercials and no more debates, only a few stickers and yard signs remain. Now is a time to reflect not simply on the issues, but on the system itself.
For almost two and a half centuries, the United States has held presidential elections. The original system involved voting for men rather than teams, with first place earning the presidency and the “runner-up” taking the vice presidency as outlined in Article II, Section 1, Clause 3 of the Constitution. In 1804, the Twelfth Amendment introduced the idea of voting for the two separate offices to combat issues in dividing votes in the electoral college. This developed into running mates as we know them today.
The Federalist Papers defend the original Constitution. All the states agreed that the Articles of Confederation were too weak, but they did not agree on what the new Constitution ought to look like. The Federalists believed that the government was not going to be powerful enough while the anti-federalists believed the Constitution took authority from the states. Federalist Paper No. 84 addressed the three main objections of the Anti-Federalists: the lack of Bill of Rights, the large power given to the centralized government, and differing interests of the Union.
Concerning the last, the author writes: “It ought also to be remembered that the citizens who inhabit the country at and near the seat of government will, in all questions that affect the general liberty and prosperity, have the same interest with those who are at a distance; and that they will stand ready to sound the alarm when necessary, and to point out the actors in any pernicious project. The public papers will be expeditious messengers of intelligence to the most remote inhabitants of the Union.”* This claim presents interesting questions about both government and media. For instance: were there more disparate interests among the states than there are among them today? Do the states have more in common now, given modern politics, economics, and military? Can the media be relied upon to communicate issues?
Indeed, elections show both the wisdom and fallibility of our founding fathers. While their foresight astounds, the distance between our time and theirs is shocking. While they certainly anticipated many of the republic’s struggles, they never could have predicted the mass media’s role in modern elections. The media focuses on hot-button issues, driven by glossy headlines and “search engine optimization.” How much do we really know about the government and what it has done in the last 4, 8, or even 20 years?
I must also propose that America’s media does not communicate global issues, focusing exclusively on its own internal conflicts. Other nations are better informed than we are. Whether this is because the states have disparate interests, because the American media only portrays what it wants us to know, because the American people only seek out information that confirms their own beliefs, or some combination of all of these, American citizens need to learn to be better global citizens. Although it may be meaningless to elaborate on the Founding Fathers’ beliefs, I doubt that they thought it possible to be as detached from Europe as we have become, all the while being involved in every facet of its politics.
Perhaps Franklin’s “A republic, madam, if you can keep it,”** has become an anachronistic rebuke. Or, perhaps it encourages us to preserve the system. Nonetheless, education and reflection are more important than they have ever been. And, for those who who see this as their duty, citizenship is both a privilege and a right.
*The Federalist Papers: Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, John Jay, Rethinking the Western Tradition (New Haven: Yale University Press, ©2009), 1, accessed November 8, 2016, https://books.google.com/books?id=ujCo7VKRT_sC&printsec=frontcover&dq=federalist+paper+84&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiK1uuH05nQAhWLrFQKHaF-CxgQ6AEIGzAA#v=onepage&q&f=false.
**Legend has it that a woman asked Franklin, as he was leaving the Constitutional Convention, what kind of government they had made. His retort, “A republic, madam, if you can keep it” has become famous. The original quotation is difficult to locate.