Disenfranchised To Disenchanted: America's Search For Leadership

Published 01 April 2016

By James Kallman
The upcoming presidential election should be about much bigger things, tearing down barriers and aiming for grander targets.

When Abraham Lincoln spoke at Gettysburg about government of the people, by the people and for the people, he was more describing a vision than the reality of a time when a major portion of the U.S. population was disenfranchised. Indeed, almost five years were to pass after the eventual end of the Civil War before the Fifteenth Amendment was ratified in 1870, affirming that a citizen’s right to vote could not be abridged by “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” Moreover, it would be another half century before women finally got the vote in the U.S. with the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920.

Yet if universal suffrage is a building block of nationhood in which all sections of society enjoy equal rights, the ultimate responsibility for maintaining such a nation lies with those elected to serve the best interests and meet the needs of all its citizens. This demands dedicated individuals who are prepared to follow their own consciences in honestly serving those they represent.

The squabbles to obtain the delegates necessary to secure party candidacy for November’s 59th U.S. presidential elections has displayed a different face, however. Instead of seeking to appeal to a broad cross-section of the electorate, we have heard threats to disenfranchise such groups as Muslims, immigrants, LGBT, and so on, through the elections, and later through the courts. In a nation built on successive waves of immigrants and broadly supportive of religious freedom, such appeals are a frightening reminder of restrictive groups from the past.

It may be, however, that these candidates have just picked up on the fears of an electorate that has lost faith in Washington and is lashing out at those they see as being different. Stoking these fears in the plain language of television rather than wrapping ideas in the complexities of political address may be a ploy to stampede voters towards their cause; it could also be that the more politically attuned candidates are adopting rope-a-dope tactics and waiting for the storm of protest to blow itself out.

Whatever the case, it is debasing the whole process by turning such matters into walls of exclusion. The upcoming presidential election should be about much bigger things, tearing down barriers and aiming for grander targets. A few goals that spring to mind are accepting healthcare as a right for all, designating cancer among chronic diseases to be conquered, and planning interplanetary missions in preparation for the day we live on other planets.

Tearing down barriers and shooting for the stars will not come without cost, but just as interstate highways replaced the cattle trails of yesteryear, so too must the antiquated infrastructure of government be updated to support the needs of today. Nothing should be considered sacrosanct and the tax system, for instance, has long been acknowledged as being inefficient and unfair; if it’s broke, fix it.

Not just America, but the world, is in need of leadership and vision to set us on a new course, rather than have political spin doctors mouthing the same old platitudes to an increasingly angry and violent global populace. The search is on for political leadership that is both bold and capable of inspiring members of Congress to rise above party dogma and treat matters on their individual merits.


**This article was published in the Forbes Indonesia, March 2016. You can also read this article on Forbes Indonesia.