Staff Editorial: Our political problems are not new problems

The worst president ever.

The most shameful thing to ever happen in our country.

Humiliated on an international stage like never before.

We hear phrases like this get tossed around a lot to describe our current political situation. People on either side of the aisle can barely agree with each other on much, but we can all agree that this time — this one, specific era in our country’s history — is the worst ever. The time when our politics are the most rotten, the most corrupt, the most partisan and short-sighted and self-serving.

Well, you know what they say about history repeating itself. And if you look at the history of our government, you can find examples of just about every dirty tactic in the book. It is filled to the brim with incidents ranging from unimpressive to embarrassing to revolting.

We’ve never had a worse president? Well, we had one that forced thousands of Native Americans on a deadly trek halfway across the country, just because they were in our way. Dozens pushed off dealing with the issue of slavery. Even many of the “good” ones owned slaves themselves.

Elections today are dirtier than they’ve ever been? Political machines at the turn of the 20th century used to give people food and housing, not because it was the right thing to do, but to buy their votes. Lyndon B. Johnson bugged his opponent’s headquarters eight years before the Watergate scandal. John Adams spread a rumor that Thomas Jefferson was dead when they ran against each other (after all, what’s the point in wasting a vote on a dead guy).

Our nation has never been more divided? We fought a Civil War.

Maybe one of the reasons we never think about how bad things were centuries ago is because we get a sugarcoated version of history. Which makes sense — to a point. After all, no one wants to feel bad about their country, so telling a little white lie here, omitting a couple tiny facts there, can feel okay in the end. Of course, it’s not.

But even putting aside the blind patriotism that obscures our view of history, we still only get a very broad view of history. It’s easy to forget that we are living history — and how will our grandchildren read about this era in their textbooks? 

We get a very up-close-and-personal view of all the bad things that happen, but they’ll get a sentence or two. The removal from tragic (or just embarrassing) political events can make them seem much less important, and can make it easier to downplay the significance they may have had on everyday people, like us.

We can cherry pick certain things that are happening right now that have no precedent, or certain precedents that are being broken. And it’s true, those things are happening. A lot of them are terrible, and we can’t pretend that they aren’t. But that’s always been happening — there are always a million little things that are happening that shouldn’t be happening. Pointing to one of those little things and saying “see? Everything is going terribly” is simply not accurate.

This isn’t all to say that things aren’t bad now — because they kind of are. Politicians are putting party above country left and right, and corruption isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. But at the same time, we should acknowledge that this kind of thing has been going on since long before our Constitution was even a thought. It’s all a part of human nature, not a part of the 21st century. 

So, what do we do? After all, if this kind of thing has been going on for centuries, then why bother trying to stop it? Well, just because it’s always been going on (and always will) doesn’t mean that we can’t try to stop it from happening now. Now may not be the worst time — but that doesn’t mean it’s the best either. And even if it was the best, there would still be bad things happening.

So if you want to change something, do it. Vote. Attend a protest. Sign a petition. Whatever you need to do to get the things you want done, do it. Because we aren’t living in the End of Days. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t still make life a lot better for a lot of people by taking action.