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February 16, 2024

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Human beings are political by nature

When I was in kindergarten, I think, someone explained to me how the real world worked. He was six or seven, so I assumed he knew what he was talking about.

“The President is the boss of the governor, and the governor is the boss of the mayor, and the mayor is the boss of your dad, and your dad is the boss of you!”

If I had thought to actually ask my dad (a WWII vet and lifelong liberal), I might have gotten a version closer to the truth. Instead I believed this older kid, and consequently thought for a while that I lived in a totalitarian dictatorship.

Eventually I realized that this kid, who was wrong about practically everything, was also wrong about the United States. At that moment, this kid got smaller in my mind and the world got a lot bigger and more free.

But there’s a reason why that sort of dictatorial thinking appeals to people.

It’s simple. If the world were run by a chain of command, it would be easier to understand.

Simple is easy and easy is good. I’m as lazy as the next person, assuming that the next person is the laziest man in the world.

But sometimes a little complexity is worth the effort.

Who runs the country? The President? Mitch McConnell and John Boehner might disagree. We don’t let any one person have charge of anything in this country, because anyone in the government is our employee. We’re the sovereigns of this nation.

Who runs the University?

The faculty? Clearly not, or they’d be paid better. (Your tuition, as high as it is, is not enriching the faculty.)

The administration? Maybe — but they have to abide by the decisions of the University trustees (who are meeting today on campus).

Are the trustees the final arbiters of everything on campus?

No: they have to abide by the law, and they’ll have to abide by the contract being negotiated with the faculty union and the administration (when one is finally finalized and signed by all parties).

Maybe the football coach is in charge? He’s the best-paid person on campus.

In truth, no one is in charge. And that’s a good thing. It means that everyone who has an interest in the University (or the country, for that matter) can have an impact on the way it’s run.

But only if they bother to exercise their power: to speak, to vote, to participate in the awkward and messy business of politics.

Politics has become such a cussword nowadays that even politicians pretend to dislike it. “This is no time for politics!” some professional politician is sure to intone during any important debate on public policy.

Which is sort of like saying, “This is no time for oxygen! We’re trying to breathe here!”

Any organization staffed by merely human beings — like a university or a nation — is political by its nature. It’s susceptible to political pressure from the community because it depends on support from the community.

One (not the only) way to affect the government is by voting — and not taking any flack from someone who tries to deny you that right. (We’re looking at you, Ohio Secretary of State John Husted.)

Nobody voted for the University trustees, the administration or the faculty, but they can be affected by people in the community they serve standing up and making noise.

It’s awkward, sometimes difficult, and doesn’t have guaranteed results. That’s why politics is a cussword.

But the alternative is figuring out who your boss is and letting him stomp on your neck for the rest of your life.

Respond to James at

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