Two weeks till the midterm elections. Are you voting to uphold and defend our system of democratic government or are you voting to undermine and destroy it? Those are the only options.

If you’re reading this, you are likely voting for the former. Which is ironic. Those of us who came of age during the 1960s and ’70s were characterized as “anti-establishment,” often for good reason (e.g. Watergate and authorities lying about the Vietnam War while 58,000-plus of our generation were butchered). Those who supported and defended that long ago status quo were the conservatives.

Now the script has flipped. The right is anti-establishment, attempting to undo a system of government they believe is beyond redemption. Democracy only works, they say, “if we win.”

These days, the center left, in alliance with progressives, are defending the institution. Still criticizing it, mind you, acutely aware of its flaws, always working to make it better, but still recognizing that government is necessary and that it works much better than the right gives it credit for — at least when people who believe in government are in charge.

We’ve evolved, in other words, from being anti-establishment to being antidisestablishmentarians.

In school, we were taught the longest word in the English language was “antidisestablishmentarianism”. Twenty-eight letters, longer than the alphabet itself.

Being a word kid, I found that term quite interesting. You could break it down into manageable bits. Anti- (against), dis- (also against, an apparent double-negative), establishment- (a familiar enough word), and -arianism (one who is …). So the word means “one who is against disestablishing the establishment.”

Which is precisely where we many of us find ourselves as we prepare to vote.

So, are you voting for the party that still fights for civil rights or the party that’s still fighting the Civil War? The party of voter empowerment or the party of voter suppression? The party of anti-racism or the party of pro-racism? The party of facing our past or the party of whitewashing our past? The party that got us past the pandemic or the party that made the pandemic far worse than it had to be? The party that strengthened the economy or the party that cratered it? The party that stands up to Putin or the party that sucks up to Putin? The party that lives by its values of helping those in need or the party that trashes Christian values in the name of Jesus Christ and Donald Trump? The party of Raphael Warnock, Tim Ryan, John Fetterman, Stacey Abrams, and Beto O’Rourke or the party of sell-your-soul-for-power suck-ups like J.D. Vance, Herschel Walker, Dr. Mehmet Oz, Ron DeSantis, Greg Abbott, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito? The party of the United States of America or the party of the Divided States of Red vs. Blue? The party that talks about how much better things could be or the party that talks about how “terrible” everything is? The party of democracy or the party of autocracy? The party of election reform or the party of election denial? The party of inclusion or the party of exclusion? The party seeking racial equity or the party preserving white supremacy? The party of free and fair election or the party of insurrection? The party of government function or the party of government dysfunction? The party seeking the truth or the party spreading the Big Lie? The party of common-sense gun regulation to reduce gun violence or the party of enabling mass murderers to annihilate our children? The party of respect for the living or the party of disrespect for the planet we live on? The party of reproductive rights or the party of reproductive coercion? The party of human rights or the party of mass incarceration? The party of the popular will or the party of minority rule? The party that plays by the rules or the party that thinks rules are for losers? The party of so far to go or the party of so far gone?

Government isn’t perfect, but it works a hell of a lot better than the extreme right seems to think. Do you have confidence in our federal government? I don’t mean Congress. Almost no one has a high opinion of Congress (although I have a very high regard for the congresswomen and men who conducted the January 6 Commission hearings).

These days I find myself in the unpopular position of defending the establishment. As a recent Economist magazine column, “In praise of the deep state,” put it: “Despite common criticism, there is plenty of good news about American government.”

There are roughly 1.9M federal civil servants — beyond each administration’s 4,000 political appointees. Those civil servants make government work, usually quite well, sometimes in spite of who is president. It works best when we don’t elect disestablishmentarians like Donald Trump as chief executive and Republican extremists to the House and Senate.

We should stop badmouthing government and start finding the good in it — even as we keep striving to improve it. I call that “The New Citizenship.”

The first step is voting for the antidisestablishmentarian party and electing people who believe in government.

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