Happy President’s Day! I hope you get to enjoy a day off with your loved ones and can find some peace today.
President’s Day is an odd holiday—originally, we celebrated George Washington’s birthday on February 22nd, but eventually transitioned to celebrating on the third Monday of February primarily to appease labor unions who wanted more three-day weekends.
The holiday was then seen as a celebration of Abraham Lincoln, born February 12th, and George Washington. Now, it’s seen as a vague celebration of the men who have held that rare distinction of having occupied the Oval Office.
It’s an odd holiday for a republic such as ours; for many it is slightly monarchial to have a day celebrating all presidents. Surely there are some presidents we wish we hadn’t endured. Personally, I fantasize about what the United States without Woodrow Wilson’s eight years of dictatorial progressivism would look like.
But this year, President’s Day has reminded me of a frustrating problem in our politics in general. We are, as a country forgetting our own backyards to focus on the biggest, most distant issues facing our nation.
The old saying goes “all politics is local.” It meant that people whose hometowns were in trouble would bring that attitude to the national stage.
Unfortunately, that is not the case.
Instead, we bring our national attitude to the local level.
During the 2022 elections, I knocked on a lot of doors and greeted a lot of people at the polls. Far too many voters were entirely unaware of what issues were facing the city and instead focused on what they’d seen on cable news recently. While canvassing for Richard Smith’s City Council campaign, I was more than once asked, “What’s his opinion on January 6th?” When I reminded these voters that this was a city election, they would often get frustrated and demand that I talk about what was going on in Washington DC.
Looking around our city I saw many signs for Greg Abbot but very few for Jennifer Virden.
And we have seen the massive turnout for Senate and Presidential elections, but very low voter engagement in the elections closest to home; local elections.
None of this is to say that we shouldn’t care about the nation, but rather to note that in the elections people can have the most impact in, we should see more engagement.
What is happening?
Why have people started ignoring their own hometowns in favor of fixating purely on national politics?
I believe that the proliferation of cable news like Fox, CNN, and MSNBC has caused people to focus less on local news. You can, after all, only watch one show at a time. The national news outlets have larger budgets and can have more entertaining content, more interesting hosts, and can bring up stories from around the world. A local news station can tell you the weather and what bond initiative the city is about to vote on.
It’s hardly an even playing field.
Social media isn’t helping either. We live in a closed loop on social media—sharing and resharing the stories that those in our circle are sharing. And the stories that get shared are those that the most people are impacted by; national stories.
We see the evidence of this disengagement with local issues in another way; the death of local papers. Now I’m not suggesting, as some leftists have, that the government should subsidize local newspapers. That idea is equally parts laughable and unhelpful. But it is still a small tragedy that people have so little care for what occurs just down the road that newspapers cannot even afford to remain in business.
There is no easy solution to this problem. It will require a cultural shift, away from the national stage toward the local. It will require work since journalists too are increasingly unintended in the local stories. But nothing good was ever easy.
This President’s Day, I hope that going forward you will remind your friends that what happens closest to home is often most important. It’s certainly where they can have the most impact. Taking an interest in a local issue, taking police contracts as an example, is what we as free citizens are supposed to do. Protecting our homes and ensuring that our neighborhoods are well cared for is our calling in a free republic.
All politics may be national, but it doesn’t have to be.
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