The narrative of Election Day is shaping up to be ‘outsiders fed up with insiders’. I find that narrative to be a very intimate one. For a very long time I was, and in many ways still feel like, an outsider. As a child I was always more comfortable associating with the misfits and outcasts. I never had an easy time socializing as a kid, often I would entertain myself on weekends by playing board games against myself; I never fit in at the ‘popular kids’ table. This, coupled with the curiosity fostered in my by my parents, meant that I spent many hours of my childhood learning and observing social structures of power from the outside.
The irony of this is that now, as a grown man, I am what the overwhelming majority of Americans call a ‘Washington Insider’. I’m acquaintances with a handful of Congressmen (they’re both men), know many people that work on the Hill and for the Federal government, and I myself work as a consultant for pretty much every possible type of “D.C.” organization you can think of. This is my original sin; I’ve betrayed my inner child.
The narrative of Election Day is shaping up to be ‘real people fed up with elites’. I find that narrative to be a very intimate one. I started this essay off by doing something I rarely do: talk about myself, my persona, and my memories of my childhood. I do this for a reason. I want you to remember that behind the text there is a human, a real person, whose heart beats the same as you, who bleeds the same as you, and feels the world shake the same as you.
The irony of this is that now, as a grown man, I am what the overwhelming majority of Americans call an ‘elite’. I have a Master’s degree, I went to a top-tier University, and I have a comfortable middle-class lifestyle (at least as far as a Millennial can). This, too, is my original sin; I’ve betrayed my inner child.
My mother is from a different country and worked for the Board of Education. My father is a contractor, and has worked with his hands for as long as he has lived. My mother’s mother came to this country from war-torn Italy without a penny to her name and without knowledge of English. Her husband, my grandfather, was murdered protecting the small business he ran in the Bronx. My father’s father served in WWII dutifully and then became a police officer in the NYPD.
My story, my roots, are common. The majority of you reading this are first or second generation from lower-middle to working class families. The other portion of you are laughing at me right now.
I want to explain to the majority of you, the outsiders, why the other portion, the insiders, are laughing at me. They’re laughing because they know I am neither an elite nor a Washington Insider. I am, for the area where I live, an incredibly common and run-of-the-mill man.
When you say you want to ‘drain the swamp’ or ‘clear out DC’ what we are hearing is that you want to bring harm to people like me. Generally speaking, a friend of yours. You want to take away our jobs, take away our homes, and destroy our community. But all you would do, if you could do that, is hurt real people just trying to live doing jobs you wouldn’t want to do in the first place. I hope this gives you pause when thinking about immigration policy.
Here’s the thing about ‘taking down Washington’: this is America. You can’t destroy any American community, big or small. For those of you who see “D.C.” as a place of corruption and greed, a modern Sodom that needs to be destroyed realize that your task is a Sisyphean one. You can’t destroy it, but maybe you can change it.
Here’s why D.C. is indestructible. If you’re reveling in your Electoral victory (you did not win the popular vote, and that’s twice that’s happened in five elections) your candidates, your campaign structures, and your organizations are about to become my neighbors. They’re about to be “inside” “D.C.”. If your plan was to destroy Sodom, all you’ve done is make more Sodomites.
Elections involve a lot of moving parts. They involve the media, elected officials, PACs, policy groups, thinktanks, and a host of other NGOs. All of this structure, the people writing the policies, vetting the speeches, filling in the transition teams, are “D.C. insiders”. Anyone who comes to D.C. will become a D.C. insider. It’s like moving to New York and becoming a New Yorker; one day you nearly get hit by a car and chew someone out at 8am. Shit happens.
So know that the system really won’t change because of an election. Sorry to piss on the parade but you need to hear it. The last thing I want to see is someone who was excited to vote become disheartened. If you were voting to change the system, you voted for the sizzle but not the steak. There was no steak in this election. If you want to change the structure of government, you need to change the structure of elections. I can go more in to that if you’d like.
If you think ‘well the polls were wrong, the media, and the analysts were wrong so he must be wrong’ I ask you to think about who you’re saying is wrong. You’re arguing that the New York transplant with an expensive education, history of working with and befriending both sides of the aisle that lives in D.C. is wrong.
Look up the President-Elect’s donation history. I didn’t describe myself; I described Donald Trump in January. I live in Virginia.
Think about it this way—anyone who has worked on the Hill for more than 20 years has seen 4 elections come and go, and has had tangible input on law longer than most of the House, the Senate, and the President. We were here before. We were here after. We exist because we have to.
Now that I’ve, hopefully, popped the anti-DC bubble I’d like to make confetti out of the remaining bits. I’d like to talk about the more important side of Washington the side many of you who are outside DC never see, never hear about, and complain about incessantly—laws and policy.
Lawmaking is hard. Governing is an impossible task. Policy is really just hoping to god you’re within a margin of error (ditto polling). One of the main reasons D.C. seems like a business is because it is. It takes a lot of time and research to figure out what options are feasible, and it takes special skillsets to write those in to a legible law. Think of it like looking at a bachelor’s fridge, making a recipe out of the few ingredients you have, and then cooking that recipe as best you can. Seems easy, but all of us have burned toast before.
It takes years to develop and execute policy options. The people that are doing this need to eat and live. Again, I stress that they are people. That requires money, and that makes D.C. a business. I’m a part of it, most of the people reading this are a part of it. Yes, we get paid different amounts, some of us are better at our jobs, and there is a revolving door around Capitol Hill. D.C. has its glaring flaws. It is not, like democracy and like capitalism, a perfect system.
The reason why this system seems so corrupt to outsiders, to me at least, is because government has failed in a few fundamental ways. First, we have failed to adequately educate our citizens on government. Second, it is easier for elected officials to misguide voters with simple solutions because they believe them (see: failed to educate). Third, politicians have systematically changed electoral districts to make it easier for them to win without educating voters or giving real answers.
So if you’re wondering why D.C. seems so corrupt to you, look at who you voted for. That’s not a dig at either candidate. It’s a dig at what you wanted from a politician. A good sale. A deal. Simplicity. If you argue that D.C. is a business, or is corrupt, then there’s a chance the person you pencil in is a sales representative.
We have to do more to dispel the electoral fog that has descended over us all. We have to do a better job at re-organizing our elections in to ones that give us better options, we have to push ourselves to look for high-quality information, we have to challenge ourselves to learn constantly. Ask any economist; liberal or conservative, education is the primary driver of economic growth.
That being said, it’s not all doom and gloom. America has the least corrupt voting system in the world. We have the longest continual peaceful transfer of power on the history of the Earth. America also has the strongest lobbying regulations in the world.
We are facing serious issues. We just elected a man who threatened to ruin peaceful transfer of power, we elected a man with no actual policy laid out, with no understanding of Washington, who is under investigation for a variety of unspeakable crimes. He won against a candidate as controversial and suspected as she was well-qualified. He won in the first election where there was no positive rating for candidates. Our country is, at a mathematical level the most divided it has ever been (that district thing plays a part).
Beyond the personnel issues I just listed, we’re facing what will be the most transformative century in global history. Automation will wipe out large sectors of the economy, climate change will restructure the map and completely move around populations of people, the world is becoming multipolar, and the world is slowly walking its way towards state-on-state warfare.
If you were at all motivated by this election, I ask you one thing. Do not let go of that motivation. Hone it, let it feed your curiosity. Learn about government, learn about your candidates, and learn about policy. You can do it. You do not need to go to school to do it. Learn. Observe. Watch the system from the outside and you will begin to understand it from the inside. Then go out, demand better from your candidates—ask the hard questions—and send someone to Washington that is the best of you, not the lowest common denominator. We will be here, and we will be ready to do whatever we can to get it done, and then we will get ready for the next one.
Do not fear D.C., do not fear government, and do not run away from it. The only way you can fix something is by understanding it and then wanting to fix it.