According to Aristotle, man is a “political animal” with social needs that are just as important to them as the need for food, water and shelter. Politics to Aristotle meant society, and the functions that society undertakes to provide for its people.
Aristotle explains that the primary way to satisfy this political need is to form political associations with other humans, whether it be familial households, small communal groups or national political entities. These political associations often form collective groups with their members that support one another and fulfill this need.
In the United States, we have taken that need for association with others to another level. Political parties, mainly the Republican and Democratic parties, are vehicles for the American people to express themselves on their views and find common community with other, like-minded individuals. Using these parties as a tool, the American people select leaders to shape the world around them through their vote.
But now, with COVID-19 threatening people’s health at the polls, many are seeking new ways of voting. Dr. Kelly McHugh, chair of the Political Science department at Florida Southern, says that many practices that we normally see in a common election year just aren’t being practiced.
“COVID has sort of taken away the more traditional forms of campaigning that political campaigns are used to, the door-to-door canvassing, the handing out of fliers, that sort of thing,” McHugh said. “Instead, campaigns are having to move online and find new ways of reaching the American people.”
Her colleague, Dr. Bruce Anderson, agrees with her, though he pointed to a different change in the voting process that has rocked the political conversation.
“The biggest change is the result of the mail-in ballot, and currently you have voters that have already voted,” Anderson said. “I think that mail-in voting, certainly in Polk County, is entirely secure, and they will do their very best to make sure that those ballots are where they need to be when they need to be there. There are gonna be some glitches, there are gonna be some dropped balls along the way, but they shouldn’t have that much of an effect in terms of the final outcome.”
There have been doubts raised about the efficacy of mail in voting, whether we can be safe when we cast our ballots on election day, and even the reason behind why we ought to vote in the first place.
According to the Census Bureau, 1 in 3 eligible voters in the United States did not vote in 2016, before the pandemic made voting a risk to the health of the voter and their loved ones. Whether due to disillusionment, apathy, ignorance or a combination of the three, these people did not exercise their constitutional right to decide vital components of their lives.
Carter Kruse, a sophomore Accounting and Economics and Finance double major at Florida Southern, believes that voting is a fundamental right that should be treasured because many others in the United States and abroad do not enjoy such freedom.
“Just having the right to vote is something amazing that everyone needs to partake in because it is determining the future of this country,” Kruse said. “It impacts everything. It’s not just the big picture, the future of the country, WWII type policies, its [basic] things like healthcare.”
Brock Townsend, a senior Biology major at Florida Southern, has a similar view, citing this year’s various natural and manufactured hardships as a major factor in why he feels people need to get out and vote.
“We have a hand in deciding the future of our nation,” Townsend said. “By not voting, you’re essentially voting for the person that wins. You’re giving power to the person that’s winning, and if you disagree with them, you’re still voting for them in the sense that you are not doing anything to counteract them.”
In the era of COVID however, politics seems to be dirtier and more divisive. Commenting on the presidential debate between Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden on the Sept. 29, Dr. McHugh said bluntly that “It was a bit of a mess.”
“I feel like the average American voter did not become more informed on the issues they needed to know about because the candidates were more interested in talking over each other,” McHugh said.
In this debate, the candidates called each other names, commented on personal family history and generally ignored the larger issues that face the United States.
However, surprisingly enough, this is not representative of elections that are local and have more of a direct influence on the lives of individuals.
“It’s easy to get blinded by the fact that we are in the middle of a pandemic,” Anderson said. “Campaigns are actually very similar to other kinds of campaigns I have seen, from the top to the bottom. The same kinds of candidates are out there, the same issues like healthcare, foreign policy, the economy, those issues haven’t really shifted all that much. It’s a little louder, but it’s not [any] more intense.”
Though this election comes at a time where voters are exhausted from hearing rhetoric that is destructive and divisive, this exhaustion is no excuse for us to simply remove ourselves from the discussion.
Politics will continue, whether we pay attention to them or not.
“There’s a lot of fluff out there,” Townsend said. “If you hear something, don’t just take it at face value.”
Townsend values putting in the work and learning about the issues, since both sides display different perspectives on those issues and he believes that voters can easily be led astray without that information.
Kruse agreed, saying simply, “Do your own research.”
We as a society need to come to grips that politics is important in our everyday lives. Government involves itself in the very basics of our existence, whether its how much money we pay at the gas pump, whether the mailman delivers our packages, whether we are drafted to become soldiers and fight in faraway wars.
These decisions are made by the people we elect to represent us in discussions that many of us will never see or be bothered with.
Yet these decisions cannot affect how we treat other people in our day-to-day interactions. Ostracizing your fellow Americans for exercising their mutual constitutional rights and displaying their views on these decisions is one of the most egregious acts one can partake in.
The story of Thanksgiving that is ruined by the uncle with a strong political view is one that many of us have experienced. The snide comments in a forum that is confined to a specific way of thinking are commonplace amongst all levels of society. The violence between people who share different beliefs is publicized for all to see.
These occurrences showcase the level of division that our society has descended to, and the result of these occurrences was the debate debacle that was on full display to the American people, and to the rest of the world.
“I hope that at the end of the day, we can all walk away and shake hands, whether we come out as winners or losers,”. Anderson said. “There are serious issues at stake here, but that doesn’t mean that they have to be so serious that we drop friendships, we cut communication, we cannot sit down to Thanksgiving dinner with people.”
Americans need to find a way to understand the opposition without rushing to judgement about the character of the person themselves. Though they feel differently about certain mainstream issues than you do, they all still face the same challenges.
They still have to deal with bill payments, with family commitments, with personal tragedy and internal doubts. They still seek a better world for their children, even if that vision does not contain all the same components.
Though we all may be animals, at least we have each other to fulfill our social needs. Let’s keep those conversations amicable and informed.