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The Health of the Body Politic

When the 1787 United States’ Constitutional Convention concluded, Benjamin Franklin told a woman outside of Independence Hall that she and the rest of the citizens of the United States now had “a republic . . . if you can keep it.” bernie-sanders While we speak of our government as a democracy, we are a republic with, for the most part, democratically elected representatives in a tripartite division of power designed to provide checks and balances. The people democratically elect the House of Representatives and the Senate, and the people elect the electors who elect the president. The President nominates justices for the Supreme Court and when the Senate then confirms those nominees, the President appoints them to the bench. In a country wherescientists can build antennae capable of hearing whispers from the past one billion light years away, we currently have some leaders who forget that it was “the people” who, recently, twice elected President Obama whose nominee to the Supreme Court these leaders would like to completely dismiss in the alleged interest “the people.” There are people, and then there are other people, I guess. Hillary_Clinton_2007-3
Perhaps the 24/7 news cycle encourages the frequent finger pointing public power plays that look like reality TV and play as entertainment to some. In the real world, real lives matter.
The health of the body politic depends on the health of the individuals within it. Knocks to peoples’ ancestry, gender, beliefs, and lifestyles from high level leaders might unfortunately be the sort of energy that consistently trickles down to street level. Pent up and pumped up emotion always seeks an outlet. While bully behavior on camera can provide vicarious release for citizens seething pointlessly in their armchairs, it can also provide tacit example to people who want to take to the street. Ted_Cruz_by_Gage_Skidmore_4It is sad for our body politic as a whole when individuals within that body support politicians who play on emotion for their own political gain and self-aggrandizement. Such politicians use wedge issues to keep people divided. Well, modern neuroscience suggests that people cannot listen, reason and fight simultaneously. Wedge issues polarize people of similar views, siphoning energy from consensus based discussions and creating stressful dynamics that chip away at the core health of our body politic. All bodies need all of their constituent parts functioning properly and as intended.
Us/them distinctions guide most political boats with value judgements firing the engines. Strong/weak. Conservative/liberal. Male/female.Camden_NJ_poverty
Half the body politic is female and that half is still weighed down by medical models and socioeconomic systems developed for men. I finished this article after returning from the Vera House White Ribbon Campaign breakfast where a young college woman spoke of keeping quiet about her own sexual victimization because she felt it must have been her fault. Other speakers, men, acknowledged societal gender bias and suggested men need to speak out against bias and violence against women. My low self-esteem grew out a gender-biased, traditional neighborhood based school of hard knocks, pretty typical in general, specifically bad for me. Vitamin malabsorption and a head injury impaired my ability to quickly and adequately address new situations. Like many students today, I felt fear walking to and from school. I gained insight into the pervasive way gender stereotypes affect everyone, but mostly women, when I studied anthropology at SU. I value ongoing learning.Anonymous_Protest
The cost of education is a hot topic this election season and while it’s true that college is increasingly unaffordable for many students, promises of free college won’t benefit students who can’t get through high school. Early environmental trauma including poverty, poor nutrition, injury and illness, leads to ongoing problems that most heavily affect poor children. Poorer children drop out sooner with lower literacy. Solid foundational literacy empowers people to find better ways to live, cook, eat, stay healthy, earn and manage money, maintain healthy relationships, and maybe, seek higher education. Higher education is the key to a better life only after one has one’s basic needs for food and shelter met.
We need jobs with good wages and the wages people earn reflect have/have not polarization. A top paid CEO in the USA now earns 450 times what the lowest paid employee earns. Whether one is Democrat or Republican, one has to notice that much political energy is coalescing around some narrow views. When group polarization pulls too much from the center, moderate people disengage. When moderates disengage, the polarizers predominate. Extreme polarization pulls things apart. Our body politic is being strained. To avoid stress fractures and other bad stuff, we need to strengthen our core.

Debra Merryweather