This election day, that scene from The Lord of the Ring keeps coming to mind — the one in which Boromir tries to take the ring of power from Frodo. He doesn’t want to rule the world with it; he just wants to crush his evil enemy and return the world to harmony. What they’ll do with the ring after that accomplishment, well, both Frodo and Boromir seem to have some doubts that everyone will conclude that Middle Earth is better off without its power.
Earlier in the book, a council of the various species and tribes decided to leave the ring with innocent Frodo and entrust him with the mission of destroying it.
Over the past couple decades, elections have increasingly felt as if we’re voting to decide who gets to carry the ring. Some candidates on the ballot claim to be Frodo, but we haven’t had much luck electing them or keeping them on the path to the volcano into which they’re supposed to throw it.
Maybe it’s always felt like this to some degree for people as they’ve worked their way to my age, but I don’t think so. Government is just involved in so many aspects of our lives now. At the same time, other areas of community activity have decreased in prominence. It feels like more hinges on what happens today because more does hinge on what happens today. That isn’t healthy.
In political discussions with people who disagree with me broadly, I get the sense that they really do think of “representative democracy” as a process of electing our temporary dictators. Of course, when somebody they don’t like wins, they insist that something illegitimate happened — some cheating or intervention from outside powers or exploitation of hate or something. In other words, they give the impression of thinking our system should be one in which every couple of years voters exercise their right to ratify the power of dictators who are made legitimate by their ideology, not their electoral victory.
We’re not too far gone, though. The unexpected can happen. The forces of the status quo won’t make it easy or pretty, but we can get that ring to Frodo and send the poor, unfortunate hobbit on his just-shy-of-impossible mission.