Who’s running this country?

Robert Valentine
Senior lecturer
of advertisingRobert Valentine Senior lecturer of advertising

Column by Robert Valentine, senior lecturer of advertising

There has been a great deal of discussion about the presidential election this summer.

You probably heard some of it. What isn’t riotously funny is pretty sad, but at least it isn’t a rerun.

A young friend of mine posed the question: “How are we supposed to decide who’s going to run this country?”

It’s a trick question.

While it is easy to conclude that the choice is a dark one (however easy it may be for partisans on either side of the question), the answer is easy: no one person can “run the country.”

The “country” is, in fact, more than 320 million people with different dreams and different backgrounds. Under the U.S. Constitution, they are entitled to life, liberty and a hope of reasonable happiness – insofar as they choose to reach out and seize it. No one can give it or take it away without due process of law.

Yet, someone has to “run” the framework in which these millions of dreams try to co-exist. Happily, it is not someone who is elected by the currently broken process we employ every four years to keep newscasters, bloggers, comedians and columnists employed.

The task of the president of the United States is to administer the affairs of the executive branch of the national government. There are limits on presidential power, and the course of our government is set by the legislature within the bounds adjudicated by the courts. The legislature hasn’t done much since it passed the new system of health care, but the rules haven’t changed.

But all those folks who make all that news don’t run the country. Their charge is to manage the government, which is hardly the same thing as “the country.”

The country is run by dozens of state and territorial governors, legislatures and judiciaries. Our own state has its own government, located generally in Frankfort, Kentucky, a city bounded on four sides by reality. It’s a lovely town, but the government seated there doesn’t handle the “running of the country.”

The country is also run by thousands of city and county executives with their local councils, boards, fiscal courts and judges. These are the people who pave your street, protect the purity of your water supply, secure your electric (and digital) service, provide for health care and public schools and decide whether or not you will have retail liquor (we do in Murray) or a by-pass (we don’t).

Sharing the work of “running the country” are hundreds of thousands of businesses, manufacturers and service providers who employ most of us and who will one day give you a job. They and their employees pay most of the taxes, provide our food and clothing and a million other products and services that allow us to live in comfort and health. When they choose to produce something or to discontinue it, they are making important decisions that touch our lives.

Finally, the country is run by more than 100 million parents and guardians who are charged with the most important task any culture can do: to prepare the next generation for life in this country. These people are unpaid for their work and often unappreciated by the people they serve, but they still do the job as best as they can. What they model and teach will become the values and the behaviors practiced by the next edition of “the country.”

Run the country? This year you will make more decisions that profoundly affect your life than all the presidents who ever served. You are in charge of running your life, and the country is composed of more than 320 million lives run by more than 320 individuals. No one in the White House can match your own power to change or improve your life.

Good luck running the country. It’s all yours now.