Squawk, it's time to vote, y'all!

A Bald Eagle’s Guide to Voting in 2018

Squawk, it's time to vote, y'all!

When it comes to voting on November 6th, consider the most important issue to you and use that to help you decide which way to go. For a lot of people, the buck stops at abortion because they are religious. But to be quite frank, the Republicans have already won when it comes to abortion, since the Supreme Court is the only place where Roe V. Wade can be overturned, and the Court has a majority of conservative judges right now. Nothing in the current election can change the course of the abortion issue, as the appointment of Kavanaugh means that if there is ever an opportunity to overturn Roe V. Wade, the court can already do so.

So if we aren’t voting about abortion, what are we voting about? The big issues of this election seem to be wages, healthcare and how you feel about Trump. Let’s talk about each of them in order, starting with wages.

WAGES

I know a lot of people get mad at the government for taxing their income, but few of those people get mad at their employers for not paying enough. I’d wager that the reason is that they see their employers every day, have heard their employers make excuses first-hand, and for their own sakes, want to keep a non contentious relationship with their employers so that their day-to-day work life is less stressful. Meanwhile the government feels like a distant unknown that comes in and takes your income. That doesn’t seem fair, because you know how hard you work, and you feel like you deserve more. Based on how low most incomes are and how high the cost of living is these days, you likely DO deserve more. But let’s break it down a bit further.

It’s in every company’s interest to make money. It’s in every person’s interest to make money. But a company can make more money by cutting the cost of operations, which means they can save money by paying you the bare minimum. Because good jobs are hard to come by, you might feel grateful for getting anything, regardless of how much you’re paid. A meager raise after a year of work feels like something you deserve, mainly because you work hard and are having a hard time with bills. When you see extra money taken out of your pay by taxes, you might get angry or annoyed, because you feel like you’re being cheated out of something you rightfully earned.

It doesn’t even really matter where the tax money goes, just that you have less of it to spend on food or things for your family. That puts you in a bind, and since you don’t want to blame your boss, you decide to blame the government, because somebody has to be to blame, right? It doesn’t feel fair and you feel like you’re getting the short end of the stick.

So whose fault is it?

Imagine for a bit that you have “enough” money- a hard concept for most Americans, as part of capitalism is to try to accrue as much as possible- but let’s just say you have “enough” money to comfortably do everything you want to do, minus crazy expenses like buying a personal jet or solid gold yacht or the like. Say you have “enough” because you can provide your family with food, shelter, transportation, clothes, and access to good schools. In this scenario, even though you are taxed, you still make enough that the taxing- while annoying- doesn’t break your bank or provide you with any additional hardship. Since you’re doing alright for yourself, you don’t mind the idea of paying into the government till for things like road and highway maintenance, access to clean water, public transportation, safe neighborhoods and reputable schools. Based on your finances, the money you give the government suits their needs and doesn’t ruin your finances. Much like donating to the collection plate at church, you feel comfortable and optimistic that the money will hopefully go to a good cause, but either way, you and your loved ones are safe and sound.

Sounds nice, right? I think a lot of Americans, midwesterners especially, want this kind of comfortable stability. We all dream of being rich or famous or successful, showing our old classmates our fancy new vehicle and saying yep, I’ve really made a name for myself. But beyond fantasies of petty revenge to people who barely remember you, most Americans would feel just fine if they had a good car, maybe not a Bugatti, but one they liked, that rode comfortably and felt safe, and got their family from point A to point B. In fact, stability seems to be the most out-of-reach thing for many Americans. In the same way we want somebody to blame for taxation, we want someone to blame for the fact that no matter how hard we work, we just can’t seem to reach that scenario: having enough to feel comfortable.

There are a variety of reasons for why many of us can’t make “enough” money, and many of them are larger societal problems that are beyond the scope of this essay, but I think one thing you can do for yourself is a little bit of basic math. Dreaded I know. Many of us have stress memories of early morning math quizzes, but when it comes to how much money you have (or don’t have) it helps to whip out that calculator and do a bit of arithmetic. Mainly, take a look at how much the government takes out of your paycheck on a regular basis compared to how much you make as a whole, then look at how much money you spend per pay cycle. Unless you’re already extremely well-paid (in which case, this portion of the essay likely doesn’t apply to you) I think you’ll find that the fraction of your pay that the government takes out still isn’t sizable enough to make or break you on a regular basis. Maybe the amount they taxed you would have been extremely helpful on a bill payment, but unless the government gave back everything they’d taken from you over the years in one big lump sum, chances are you’d still be just as worried about next paycheck regardless.

Expenses come up, and even when we just squeak by, we’re still wishing we had more money. So when the government takes ANY amount, it stings a little, because we feel like we could use every last red cent, whether or not it would change things significantly in the long run. When we get that measly raise after a year’s work, we feel relieved and grateful. “Someone’s looking out for me,” we might think, just because wouldn’t life be better if that were always true? Not just the overall guidance of a supernatural being who teaches you right for wrong, but a safety net- so if you really screw up, and God knows we all do, that someone’s there to catch you when you fall.

When the banks failed during the recent economic crisis, Obama bailed them out- an action he got a lot of flak for- and the term ‘golden parachute’ was used to describe rich executives who’d made a lot of terrible decisions but suffered no consequences. Hadn’t their actions ruined the economy? Why were they getting bailed out, not sent to jail forever? There are two major reasons that I can see: One, without a bailout of some kind, the economy could have crashed even harder. And two, the rich play by a different set of rules than us poor folk.

Doesn’t it always seem like the more money people have the less rules apply to them? No wonder so many of us want to be rich when we see rich folks get out of criminal charges through cash settlements, let into exclusive clubs because of their finery, seemingly able to charm and bribe whoever they’d like into whatever they want. “Must be nice,” many of us say, before going back to the doldrums of our everyday tedium.

It’s a common expression that “life ain’t fair.” But wouldn’t it be nice if it was a little bit fairer? If there were some checks and balances on those who take advantage of the system, enough so that the rest of us at least had a fair shot of earning “enough” and providing for the people that we care about? I think it would be, and at the end of the day, aside from caring for infrastructure and telling you what kinds of straws you can’t use, that’s what the government is supposed to do. Regulations, pesky and annoying as they may be, are theoretically intended to keep the country moving in logical, predictable ways, so that as many Americans can get a fair shake as possible.

I’m not saying that the government always does the right thing. In fact, lately, it seems to always do the wrong thing. But one of the tenets of a democracy is that we have to stay involved, otherwise the people that are supposed to represent us start doing whatever makes them happy rather than what makes our lives better or fairer. So we have to stay involved, do our homework, and pay attention to what’s happening. We can’t just accept the excuses our employers or representatives make at face value. We have to do the critical thinking and come to our own conclusions, not just recite talking points from Twitter.

So when your boss says, “I can’t give you a raise. Money’s too tight,” you can remind him that you’re very familiar with money being tight, as you live that reality every day. While it might be a great sign of loyalty to your employer that you’re willing to suffer to make sure the boss of the company can enjoy his new boat this weekend, you let me know how that trade-off makes you feel at hour eleven of overtime. Everything’s a hot button issue in America these days, but the one thing we don’t talk about nearly enough is ‘class’ and ‘classism.’ These two things have dogged Americans their whole lives, and we’re so silent about them they might as well be ghosts.

Most Americans no matter how impoverished think of themselves as middle-class, because who wants to think of themselves as ‘low-class’? We talk about ‘middle-class’ all day, because it feels comfortable and humble. “I’m not too big or too small. I’m just right, like Goldilocks’s porridge.” But there can’t be a middle unless there are people on the bottom and the top. And those people are all around us. But because we don’t like talking about how much we make and who makes what in public- “It’s rude!”- we vaguely assume that we’re all either ‘middle class’ or ‘upper middle-class’ on days when we have enough money to take all the kids to see a 3D movie. You might go over to your boss’s house for a holiday party and feel a little jealous of how nice everything looks. “Must be nice,” you say. But because this person is your boss, you might also try to remain optimistic. “I work for the same company. Maybe a place like this can be mine one day too.”

Now let’s imagine you ARE one of those ‘upper-upper-upper-middle-class’ people, because we dare not say ‘rich.’ Imagine you worked your butt off to get where you are, or maybe because this is the only life you’ve ever known, you walked right into success and assume you worked really hard to get it, because you have no comparison. Every day your job is to manage the lower-middle-class folk, herd them like cattle, and get them to do what the company needs them to do, whether or not they want to do it. Imagine that most of your employees are pretty good, pretty average, hard-working, but not too memorable otherwise. Then there’s this ONE employee who almost works TOO hard. They’re so clever they come up with things you would have never thought of yourself. You can tell they are young, ambitious, and want to do right by the company, but you’re beginning to worry that this person might be an even better employee than you are! Now suddenly your all-star employee is becoming a threat. “I hope they’re not gunning for my job,” you think. But the suspicions start creeping and you get anxious.

So now we have these two characters. The well-meaning but nervous boss and the well-meaning but overzealous employee. Neither of these folks is necessarily a bad person, but they find themselves at odds with one another because of money. It’s in the boss’s interest to keep power, to not let this employee outshine them, because they too need to keep a roof over their family’s head. It’s in the young go-getter’s best interest to work to the fullest of their abilities and try to earn as much as they can, because let’s face it, starting wages are rarely “enough.”

This is how companies can pit people against each other for a paycheck. Neither character wants to screw the other person over, really. They both want to work hard, be paid well, and have “enough.” Maybe one or both of them is greedy, and wants more than “enough,” but is that want itself bad, or is it only really bad when it starts to hurt other innocent people? These are the hard questions we have to deal with daily, and most of us don’t have the time to think about them with work and family and car troubles and the like.

It’s in the company’s best interest to pay both you and your manager just enough to keep you satisfied. They don’t want you to quit- it takes time and money to hire a new employee- but they also want to convince you that you are happy with what you have, so you don’t ask for more. You might hear the old line, “we’ll talk about that later this month” or “at the start of next quarter” or “the beginning of the next fiscal year.” These are easy ways for managers to keep unhappy employees on the hook. “We’ll deal with that problem later” might be honesty, but it might also be code for “if I buy myself some time, maybe they’ll forget or accept the problem.” Some of this is management-speak, ways of keeping employees in line to keep things running smoothly, but some of it is tried and true trickery that keeps you from making more money.

Companies work by assigning value to employees, both formally though titles and behind-the-scenes through personal judgments. Whether you know it or not, your boss probably has their own sense of your worth. This might give you anxiety and make you want to appear to work harder so your boss likes you more, but let’s be honest. A lot of personal judgments are petty and based on things outside of your control. Maybe your boss hates your personal style, is jealous of a certain aspect of your life, or you remind your boss of someone they hate. If you come up against one of these random obstacles, it doesn’t seem like you’d be getting a fair shake no matter how hard you work, yet a lot of employees would rather stay in that crummy situation than find a new job. Why? Because stability matters. It’s much less stressful to worry about what’s for dinner than to worry about whether or not you can afford to pay for dinner. And so long as you are employed, you at least have an income.

Our hectic work-life schedules don’t leave a ton of time for fun or relaxation, so we cherish those moments when we find them. This means between work, rest, relaxation and family, you don’t have a ton of time to look for a better job while you have a current one. When you have people counting on you, do you really want to take the risk of quitting and not finding a better job, or potentially having to move, uproot everything, for the chance at something better? That’s a lot of unknowns, and for many people, the sheer variables of such a decision make it feel impossible. So it’s easier to stick with stability, even uncomfortable underpaid stability, so long as it’s predictable.

And in a lot of ways, that’s how people vote too. We don’t have enough time for critical thinking because we need our free time to rest and relax (if we even have any) and who wants to spend their free time potentially realizing all the things they’ve been wrong about for years? This is why it’s easier to vote the way you’ve always voted, think the way you’ve always thought, and listen to people who tell you that you’re doing the right thing. Real life is challenging enough, isn’t it? “You’re telling me I have to take a philosophy course just to understand my own life? Hell I don’t even enjoy my own life!”

I sympathize wholly with this point of view. After all, “life ain’t fair,” but we’re all stuck living it because it beats being dead. So the case in point is that stability, aka the “status quo”, is a comfort even when it’s not so great. Predictability, routines (though they can be a bit boring) at least provide comfort insofar as not shocking you with unexpected surprises. When something unpredictable like a flat tire happens, it can really ruin our day. That’s why a lot of people are scared of changing or challenging themselves, and truth be told, I don’t really blame them. When most of your experience with change is a bad thing, why would you expect any different?

But we all know change and upheaval can be a good thing too. Maybe you receive an unexpected gift in the mail, or maybe a new store opens up in the area that really makes things convenient, or the best example of all, maybe you have a baby, your entire life gets turned upside-down, and yet, you’ve never been happier. There are lots of examples where something that seems tumultuous ultimately ends in happiness. Even the birth of America came from a very violent and scary revolution against the British, a nation we consider now to be one of our closest allies! Things change, and it’s not always for the worse, so let’s just remember that crises and challenges can also be opportunities for growth in new and unexpected ways. Change isn’t inherently bad. It can go either way, like a CHANCE card in Monopoly, so you just have to use your best judgment and not always assume the worst.

How does this relate to wages? Well, I’ll tell you this: most Americans do not have “enough” when it comes to stability, and when you are struggling with money, every change could mean life or death, which means that in general, you’re more scared of change than you might be otherwise. Maybe your industry is dying. Maybe people just don’t like your company’s products anymore. Maybe your town that felt bright and happy now looks kind of old and rundown. There are changes outside of your control, ones that can be very frustrating. So let’s just agree that one of the few places where you can potentially make a positive change that doesn’t take much time is with your vote.

Tax cuts are a popular idea, because of course, as we’ve discussed, everybody likes more money and few people have “enough.” There are extremely rich people at the top who have more than enough, and they’re not willing to share. Some would say it’s because they earned it fair and square, but as we’ve discussed, life isn’t always fair and square. We wouldn’t have a need for a government, laws and justice if people could be trusted to always do what was best for everybody. So when the owner of your company comes out in favor of a tax cut that only seems to support the rich and hopes that you will do the same, or you find out that your company makes donations to candidates who support tax cuts for the rich, you’ll understand why. Those people are looking out for their own best interests. They might claim that they want the company to do even better so they can pay you even more, but that sounds more like wishful thinking. If the company was doing really badly, they wouldn’t have enough to pay you at all, and if the tax cut only benefits the richest executives, what’s the likelihood they would want to give away money from their own paychecks that they just voted to receive? Whether or not they’re struggling, people who really love money and power don’t want to give theirs away. So if you’re voting to help the person at the top of your company, rather than yourself, you’re really not voting in your best interests. If it’s the government’s job to try to make life a little bit fairer, we should vote a little bit more selfishly. If everyone voted with their best interests in mind, not just the interests of leaders at work or in their local communities, the government would better reflect the people.

Right now executives and lobbyists from companies nationwide provide big donations to politicians who will lower their taxes. They have money already, they’re executives and lobbyists after all, but they want even more money regardless of what happens to their employees or anyone else. This kind of greed is dangerous because it subverts the democratic system. If people with money can control democratically elected politicians, it effectively makes their votes matter more than yours. Even if you vote for a politician based on what they SAY they will do, a corporation could still control their actions based on how much money they’ve donated. It’s important when you’re voting to know who takes money from whom, because otherwise the politician might be selling your interests down the river to support an executive’s wishes.

Which brings us back to your wages. The current Congress recently passed a tax cut they said would help the middle-class, even though the tax cut mainly made things easier on the rich. Republicans in general believe in ‘trickle-down’ economics, which suggests that if you make companies and executives richer, eventually that money will reach the ‘low-class’ folks. It seems like a strange philosophy when you think about who needs the money and where it’s headed. Wouldn’t it make more sense to give the tax cuts directly to the poor, rather than the people who already have more than enough? What’s the point of making the rich the middleman in this scenario? If the problem is that some people are struggling in poverty, wouldn’t the obvious solution be to help those people, not to give bigger paychecks to their bosses? And if ‘trickle-down’ economics actually worked at any point since the days of Reagan when it was first enshrined as a golden philosophy, wouldn’t we have seen some evidence in the past forty years to support the idea that deregulating businesses and giving tax cuts to executives shrank the wealth gap- meaning the difference in income between the people at the top and the people at the bottom? Why does that difference keep growing? I think it’s time we take trickle-down economics out to pasture, because while I like the idea of being reasonable and cautious with spending, this idea doesn’t seem to work one bit.

Conservative voters don’t want to vote Democrat with regard to finances because they fear more taxation; however, most Democrats (at least the good ones) want to tax the wealthy elite, meaning those executives who already have way, WAY more than “enough,” not the struggling lower-lower-lower-middle-class families just trying to make an honest living. Democrats are the party of caring too much, for good and for bad. The bad part of that means they often bite off more than they can chew and things aren’t as great as we need them to be. But if you’re struggling financially and want higher wages in general, you’d do well to support the party that wants to raise the minimum wage, provide better education for kids in impoverished areas, and generally thinks that limiting the amount of corporate money in politics is a good thing. We need to get back to the time where one person and one vote are always equal, and the first step is to stop letting rich executives get everything they want. It’s okay to support your boss’s views publicly and vote for your own interests in private. It’s your vote, and you need to look out for yourself and the people you care about. Just make sure when you’re voting, you actually know who that vote will help.

HEALTHCARE

Let’s discuss healthcare and the reason your vote matters here as well. We all know Obamacare was far from perfect. I’m one of the lucky few who benefitted from it, but I’ve heard enough stories to know that wasn’t the case for everybody. The best thing we can do is take the aspects of Obamacare that we liked- cheaper prescription drugs, healthcare for the poor, coverage for pre-existing conditions- and make those universal. Healthcare is expensive, and if we want to become a truly modern country that cares about its citizens regardless of whether they are high class or low class, we would do well to provide universal health care for our citizens. Societally there is really no downside for healthy people, and from an employer standpoint, you can always remind yourself that a healthy workforce means fewer people missing work.

The opposition to universal healthcare largely comes from insurance companies that want to profit off the current system. The Republican party, again receiving large donations from the lobbyists for these companies, wants to keep the status quo, as insurance companies might stop paying them if their businesses suffer. This largely seems like a bribery-based situation, but we’ll let that slide for now. The most important thing to remember is that while America’s first attempt at universal healthcare was hit-or-miss, that doesn’t mean we can’t improve it. The Republican motto was ‘repeal-and-replace’ but after two years they still haven’t come up with a thought-out plan to replace Obamacare that covers pre-existing conditions. Most voters want pre-existing conditions covered for obvious reasons (it would be nice to receive the healthcare we need), but insurance companies, like most companies, benefit from giving people as low-cost a service as possible for as much money as they can charge for it.

Insurance companies don’t like the idea of losing business, even if it means providing people with access to doctors and medicines they need to survive. So at the end of the day your healthcare vote should not reflect the wishes of a company, but whether or not you are happy with your current healthcare. If you’d like to pay less and to improve the system we have, vote Democrat. If you’d like to support insurance companies and make healthcare more expensive, vote Republican. Unfortunately, it doesn’t get much simpler than that.

THE PRESIDENT

It’s hard not to have strong feelings about Trump one way or another. Though I am not a fan of the president as a president, I am very much a fan of him as a celebrity. Before he became President, I thought his show The Apprentice was amusing and that while I disagreed with a lot of his views on Twitter, he was an entertaining and outspoken figure who brought a bit of outrageous entertainment value to whatever he said or did. Like many of us, I did not expect him to become Commander-in-Chief, but here we are, so rather than bemoan what’s gone wrong, let’s discuss what we can do to make things better.

Even though this is a mid-term election and the presidency is not on the line, there is a strange vibe that makes this election feel monumental, almost as important as a presidential election. This is our first major election since Trump took office, and because his election took so many people by surprise, they feel inspired to vote now as a way of expressing their feelings about the president. Some people like Trump’s brazen behavior and are just fans of him personally. Regardless of his actual policies or beliefs, they just want to watch the entertaining president be entertaining, like his presidency is just another new reality show. While I agree that he is entertaining- and the media seems to agree with this point too given their wall-to-wall Trump coverage- there is more to being a president than simply making people laugh, otherwise Will Ferrell might have been elected instead of George W. Bush.

In the lead-up to the 2016 election, I always figured that things would come down to the two biggest celebrities. People love brand recognition and nostalgia, and both Trump and Clinton had those in spades. Democrats could think fondly of the Clinton-run 90’s, and Republicans could think fondly of Trump’s 80’s businessman appeal. In the end, people’s dislike for Clinton undermined her campaign more than any number of Trump scandals could upend his. The notion that Trump was being honest- or at least blunt- was used as a counterpoint to Clinton’s poised and practiced demeanor. People often vote with their gut, and what I’d like to see is for people to start voting with their heads too.

If you like the President, his treatment of minorities, his inability to admit to mistakes, his putting immigrant children in cages, his ersatz support of Neo-Nazism, and the many other bizarre things he has said or done since getting into office, then you’ll likely vote Republican. But a big reason to vote for everyone else is to remind Trump that he won by a thin margin, that he lost the popular vote, and whether he likes it or not, he has to be President of ALL Americans, not just the ones that like him. Voting Democrat in your state and local elections is a great way of letting the President know that you do not support him, as he will be watching this election very closely.

OTHER FACTORS

Immigration, gun control, racism- all of these issues might sway your vote one way or another, but they are issues that will not be decided by this current election. Immigration is a difficult issue, and even Obama offered no clear solution for it beyond wanting a path for citizenship for “The Dreamers.” People like the Border Wall idea because it’s something tangible they can picture in their heads as a solution to a very complicated and hard to manage problem. The Wall likely won’t solve the problem- the problem being illegal entrants to the country.

Racists believe that illegal immigrants could be terrorists- even though most domestic attacks are committed by citizens- or that the immigrants will steal their jobs- even though the jobs don’t pay that well to begin with and as we discussed earlier, their companies might be hiring immigrants so they can pay them next-to-nothing. Similarly to the issue with taxes, few voters blame their employers for hiring illegals (which in turn is illegal) or for doing so in order to save themselves money while screwing over legal citizens. Instead voters often blame the immigrants themselves, who are usually refugees fleeing war-torn or squalid situations. Once again, the companies find a way to pit hard-working Americans against other struggling people, as if the executives didn’t have enough money to help both groups. Most executives have enough money to pay immigrants and homegrown citizens a wage that would make them happy for life, but they won’t, because it’s far more profitable to screw over all your employees in total.

Immigrants are an easy scapegoat, because again, Americans want to blame someone, and they feel uncomfortable blaming their bosses. But sometimes, it really IS your boss’s fault. We need to stop having an abusive relationship with our employers, thanking them for the days they don’t abuse us, and apologizing on the days they do. The government’s job is to make sure that these companies do right by their employees, so if you’re voting for politicians that favor the companies over the people, you’re only screwing yourself, regardless of what color your skin is.

Gun control is another hot-button issue, but much like abortion or campaign finance reform, it’s not going to be solved by this election. Some people love guns, some people hate them, and some people just wish it was harder for dangerous people to get ahold of AR-15s. Most people, a vast majority, support gentle gun control restrictions, more thorough background checks, and for people with violent histories to be kept away from dangerous weapons. That being said, you’ll still hear polarized talking points like “liberals want to take your guns,” which might be true of some left-wing nuts, but is not the position of the Democratic Party. In general, we need to stop being so hot-blooded about every disagreement and try to find some compromises. Let people hunt and defend their homes all they want, but if they feel they need a tank to do so, maybe give them a psychological evaluation.

Racial rhetoric, hatred and misinformation is at a boiling point in America right now. Every disenfranchised group feels put-upon and struggling. Even white people, who have historically had it best of any racial group in America, find themselves unhappy, struggling, and looking for a reason why. The corporation is America’s holiest church, and while I don’t remember Jesus Christ ever giving money directly to the Pharisees and ignoring the prostitutes and lepers, that doesn’t stop voters from worshipping corporate interests over their own. While it hurts to admit that you’re poor, if you’re struggling, buddy, you ain’t wealthy. So just suck it up in terms of bruises to your ego and think, what might make this situation better? I’ll tell you first-hand, tearing down our neighbors, taking up arms against those who are struggling too, that won’t solve a damn thing. The best thing we can do is Robin Hood this situation. Take from the rich, give to the poor. That’s what Jesus would have wanted. We need to help those struggling, and convince those in power that we aren’t going to give up our rights to them anymore. That’s my two-cents anyway.

And now, as a reward for reading all of that, here is a picture of Wonder Woman.

 

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