My wife Char and I are of a generation that revered Election Day as a time when America’s best was on display, a time when the rest of the world looked on with envy at what America had become. We seemed to be a nation proud of its flag and constitution, and thankful to our forefathers who bequeathed them to us.

Now election time has degenerated into a season when too many Americans spend their energy tearing our nation apart, and would-be leaders attack the character and reputation of political opponents with or without cause, and without regard to who gets hurt. “Minnesota Nice” seems like a joke after watching some Minnesota candidates belittle each other.

We cast our votes at the polls today, as we have for over 60 years. The simple act of exercising the privilege, guaranteed by a constitution that has served us well for over 250 years, used to be uplifting. Today my feelings were a mix of disgust and relief. I’m exhausted and disgusted at what I’ve seen, read and heard from many of the candidates and their campaigns and from the national news services. Too many candidates have collected and spent millions “to get their message out,” when their only message is to berate their opponent as corrupt, dishonest or worse. Allegations make headlines while verifiable facts don’t seem to matter. Many so-called news anchors spend their half hour propping up their own bias with supposed-facts, or half-truths from anonymous unnamed sources.

My sense of relief comes from hope that the election will be over by the time this column appears. However, I expect it might not be. If national results are close, almost surely there will be allegations of election fraud from both sides of the political aisle, probably some with merit. I’m not optimistic about what the next four years will bring, but it’s my hope that Americans will wake up to the fact that our democracy as we’ve known it, is in jeopardy.

If readers doubt there’s something wrong with our election process, consider the recent report that Jamie Harrison, who is challenging US Senator Lindsay Graham for his $174,000 a year job, has raised a record $60 million in campaign funds. If elected, will his loyalty be to the nation’s taxpayers who pay his $174,000 salary, or to the donors who gave him $60 million to get the job? This is not an indictment of Harrison who is probably the envy of other candidates, but is an indictment of our election process that permits money to subvert the wellbeing of America.

So, what are we as Americans supposed to do? A place to start is to recognize that our nations’ founders intended that those who serve in public office would be temporary servants of the people, so what’s gone wrong? First, our founders never envisioned politics as a lifelong profession. Yet today, many who taste the fruits of public office become addicted and obsessed with the power, prestige and perks of the job and try to hang on forever.

Second, it was never intended that public office would provide a means for personal enrichment as has now become prevalent. In earlier years, those who served in public office often gave up their profession while serving (sometimes at personal cost), and then returned to their original profession after serving a term or two. Today one can leave the White House broke (at least according to a statement by one recent occupant), and become a mega-millionaire a few years later, without benefit of a regular job.

Voters are entitled to expect candidates to have demonstrated competence to serve, to have exhibited integrity in personal and professional lives, and to articulate their policy beliefs in specific terms instead of meaningless political slogans. Trustworthy candidates should be willing to support term limits and election reform to take money corruption out of politics and to campaign honorably without slander of their political opponent.

However, not many of today’s office holders could honestly claim to meet the above criteria, nor will they in the future unless voters start demanding it. If we as citizens continue to accept a toxic political environment that potentially keeps good and qualified citizens from becoming candidates and cast ballots based simply upon party affiliation, or on who promises the most freebies, we’ll get more of the same. It’s time for an awakening by the major political parties, the national news media and we the people.

Wes Mader is a former Prior Lake mayor. Following retirement after serving as president of Bowmar Aerospace and Defense in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, Wes and his wife Char retired in Prior Lake.

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