“Vote for me…or die,” is the campaign message in California. Too much?

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Photo by Usman Yousaf on Unsplash.

Newsom's closing message: More people will die if I'm recalled



Look, we get it: Politicians need to win elections.

A candidate can have great ideas, impeccable work ethic, strong character, and a stouthearted commitment to public service and community life. They can be a fundraising juggernaut, a top-notch policy expert, and an orator for the ages.

To become an elected official, a politician still needs to win.

The costs of losing a political race equal or exceed the costs of winning one. Who can forget Mike Bloomberg’s ill-advised gambit of the last Democratic primary? To lose a primary, Mike Bloomberg waged one of the most costly campaigns in history, as far as votes gleaned per dollar spent.

Campaigns are also exhausting, not only for the candidate, but for their family, who must endure long hours, media scrutiny, a demanding schedule, public appearances and endless fundraising events.

Politicians have done all sorts of underhanded things to win elections over the decades since the two party system, against the advice of some founding fathers, took a firm and lasting hold on American life.

That politicians lie has been something of a joke as long as journalism has existed, which is probably exactly as long as politicians have existed.

Politics, journalism, and public office were all likely invented at the exact same time; at the dawn of the Agricultural Revolution.

Farming changed the course human history in ways we don’t fully appreciate. Excess grain at harvest time meant, for the first time, someone had to store it, someone had to manage it, maintain it; be responsible for doling it out to the populace. For this very reason, the oldest written records archeologists have ever discovered have been…tax records.

After the Agricultural Revolution, someone had to be the surplus harvest manager, and that person had to be paid. The grain storage facility also had to be paid for- and just like that, taxes were born, the first public office was born, and the first politicians aspired to that office for reasons Kurt Vonnegut would articulate thousands of years later.

“We should be skeptical of anyone who looks out over a group of people and thinks; ‘You know who would be great to lead and rule over all these people? Me!’,” Kurt Vonnegut once opined. It is an unmissable truth: Municipal power attracts the public servant, true; it also attracts the corrupt.

As such, journalism was probably born way back then, too. Who else was going to make sure the arbiter of the public grain trust was behaving to the standards of the office?

“Who watches the watchers?”

That one burning question has been the driver of journalism since its inception. Like it not, since human beings started organizing into permanent settlements and farming communities, and probably long before that, power has always played an immutable role in society.

Power is concentrated in all sorts of ways in a society; money or resources, numbers, talent, intelligence, even attractiveness. Power is at the heart of the other thing that was born right after humans started growing surplus crops and government right along with it:

The arms race.

Extra grain meant more than needing to pay someone to manage it: It also meant needing someone to guard it, protect it from other communities during times of famine.

After that, surely the grain surplus manager became the general, too- or hired the person who did. And both positions probably started attracting more contenders. That might have been when campaigning was born; maybe that’s why they call it a “military campaign”.

Who was going to wield all that power in the community? It was the power of life and death, after all. Maintaining food surpluses for times of famine, maintaining an adequate defense; economy and security. Economy and security happen to be the exact same things about which we still vote today.

Who gets the power depends on the system. If the system of selecting leadership is weak, compromised, or corrupt, the end result is as predictable as gravity.

The worst people always take power in a situation like that for the most obvious reason in the world: They have an unbeatable advantage.

Terrible people will do anything to get power; lie, cheat, steal, kill, and worse. They are willing to do things other people wouldn’t dream of doing.

There are more examples than bear thinking about in the historical record; mostly it has involved taking control by force. If might makes right, that is, if a society allows itself to be governed by whomever can conquer it, then it will be the one willing to use the most force who seizes power.

It is for this reason, as comedian and podcaster Joe Rogan recently noted on his wildly popular show, that the American experiment in self-governance is so special, so important and worth preserving.

Instead of the most brutal, the writers of our constitution wanted the United States of America to be governed by people of our own choosing, from among our own number, elected by a vote- removed by a vote.

The founding fathers of the United States of America weren’t perfect and they didn’t execute their idea perfectly.

But what an idea it was.

In the years since, the U.S., and the world right along with it, has prospered. The U.S., and its experiment in self-governance, has attracted, and continues to attract talented, intelligent, hard-working people from all over the world. They move to America to get an education, start a business, found a company, patent an invention.

What threatens this ideal?

Many things. First and foremost, the arms race: From the hand axe, to the horse-drawn chariots of war, to the hydrogen bomb, and beyond. We already know future human conflict is likely to include biological warfare and whatever mysterious energy weapon is causing episodes of Havana Syndrome worldwide.

The arms race is one of the key reasons maintaining the integrity of election systems is so important. From 2016 to 2020, and beyond, there were a good percentage of the U.S. population who believe the U.S. President cheated his way into office. From 2020, until now, and beyond, an equal but opposite percentage of the population believes the exact same thing.

The last few years have resulted in an unprecedented level of mistrust in federal and state government entities, the media, elected officials, law enforcement and city hall.

The extent to which mainstream media now openly runs interference for Demcoratic politicians, which matches the extent to which conservative media outlets do the same for Republicans, is part of this collapse.

There are plenty of people who loved the way the media covered the President Donald Trump Administration. Nothing got by America’s guard dogs in the press. The only lamentation among many now is that the media should treat Democratic politicians the same way.

Just because many in the media support Democratic Party platform goals, policy-wise, is no reason for preferential treatment. Indeed, the opposite is true. Without such intense scrutiny from media outlets, politicians, of both parties, wouldn’t be under much pressure to actually deliver on campaign promises and platform goals.

A mainstream media which turns a blind eye on one party, and a jaundiced eye on the other, can only produce a distorted, and untenable, view.

If Gavin Newsom had been under the kind of media scrutiny Donald Trump endured, Newsom might have been more motivated to deliver for the California voters who elected him, in which case he wouldn’t be in danger of a recall now.

Instead of doing something about poor forestry management in California, the press allowed Newsom to pontificate about climate change and do nothing. Instead of doing something about homelessness, California’s energy crisis, rising crime, failing public schools and a dozen other issues, Governor Newsom allowed those problems to get worse on his watch.

Do American voters want elected officials who do a good job, or merely those able to achieve the most favorable media coverage? Does a nation for the people, of the people and by the people want to be governed by popularity contest, or do voters want results?

(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)