It’s no secret that globalization affects nearly every aspect of our lives on a basic, day-to-day level. But the phenomenon also exists in a slightly different sphere, on a slightly smaller scale. I’m referring to the intense nationalization of American political culture; the ways in which we now marginalize local or regional politics in deference to the bombastic, loud goings-on of our federal officials and representatives. It’s evident in campaign donation trends, the criteria with which we increasingly evaluate candidates for office, and media coverage of current events and issues.
Consider, for instance, New Jersey Senator Cory Booker’s 2017 decision to vote against a bill introduced by Senators Amy Klobuchar and Bernie Sanders that would have allowed Americans to buy cheaper prescription drugs from Canada. Many took it as a red flag, critiquing Booker for kowtowing to ‘Big Pharma’ – and reminded voters of Booker’s actions when he announced his 2020 presidential bid three years later.
It may seem a fair condemnation at first blush. But dig a little deeper, and you begin to uncover the complexities of the situation. Presidential aspirations notwithstanding, Senator Booker represents New Jersey, a state where the pharmaceutical industry employs a sizable percentage of residents. However you feel about that fact, it seems inappropriate and irrational to demand that a Senator forgo their current, immediate constituents for loftier political aspirations – nor would most of us want to see that happen, as it would appear ambitiously and problematically cynical.
Or, think about the viral nature of Amy McGrath’s campaign ads targeting Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell, MJ Hagar’s much-acclaimed bid to replace Texas Senator John Cornyn, or Stacey Abrams’ Georgia gubernatorial crusade. In each of these cases, savvy and stylish multimedia content marketing brought in record-obliterating donations – McGrath had raised some $94 million by election day; Hagar hauled in $13.5 million in just three months; Abrams’ received $7.89 million in a single reporting period.
But they all lost their elections, because national media attention is ultimately a poor substitute for grassroots support in a local election. Abrams’ campaign epitomizes this fact particularly well: of the $7.89 million mentioned above, some $4.2 million (over 50 percent) came from outside the state of Georgia.
This is an enormous problem. Though maybe not as sexy as national politics, local politics arguably matter more to any given constituency, and should be treated as a distinct realm. We need to pay attention.
It’s our regional governments that fix potholes, improve our bus systems, and decide where that annoying speed camera on your daily commute is placed. It’s our regional governments that decide how our public schools are funded, operate, and teach. It’s our regional governments that often set the precedent for federal or national political moves, leading the way in response to public safety crises like the COVID-19 pandemic.
If we refuse to acknowledge the distinctly important nature of our local political scene, we fail ourselves. And if we allow our compulsive obsession with national politics to influence how we engage with our regional or state electoral politics, we corrupt the heart of our civic power, exacerbating the conditions in which toxic political polarization thrives.
It takes a lot of mental strength to engage with everything happening in the world all at once, especially when you’re also obligated to navigate the routine logistics of life on a daily basis. So start with your local community, and you might be surprised at the power you have to make the world a better place – even if it's small at first.
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