A few thoughts on rights and responsibilities

Recently, I witnessed a BMW fast little car and a burly Chevy pickup try to occupy the same lane space at the same time. The person in the BMW thought they were a NASCAR driver, and the person in the Chevy took exception to the BMW trying to cut in front of them by forcing their way into the Chevy’s lane. For about five seconds — during which I decelerated so as not to be involved in a big mess if it turned into one — life on the road got too exciting. They ran side by side about six inches apart at 60 miles an hour next to a car in the second lane and three feet off the bumper of the car in front of them, both driven by people who seemed to be just minding their own business.

The mess got disentangled without requiring wrecker or Life Flight, only because other drivers around the idiots didn’t panic and got the hell out of their way. The capper was that both idiots turned off — in opposite directions — at the next intersection.

I don’t know what the motivation was for this bit of stupidity, but I do find it fascinating — in a morbid sort of way — that some will endanger themselves and others to save 15 seconds or less on the road and then sit in their (idling) cars for 10 minutes waiting in line for a latte.

In the United States, we are privileged to drive on one of the best highway systems on the planet. With a driver’s license (and proof of registration and insurance) we are given the right to travel at will via internal combustion or electric machine. Our responsibility — rights carry responsibilities — is to do so in a safe, courteous and respectful manner, obeying traffic laws and signs and watching out for other drivers on the road.

Don’t act so surprised. That’s really true, though many drivers don’t seem to know it — or model it. Many drive like selfish children, getting away with as much as possible and bullying others out of their way. The death toll from road accidents hasn’t climbed faster because auto manufacturers have figured out how to keep people alive through 70-mile-an-hour pileups.

Another of our rights as citizens of the United States is the right to vote. I believe it is our supreme right; to express our choices for representatives at all sorts of levels of government as well as certain laws and referendums. It is also our supreme responsibility.

We live in a republic/democracy. “Republic: a state in which supreme power is held by the people and their elected representatives, and which has an elected or nominated president rather than a monarch”; “Democracy: a system of government by the whole population of a state, typically through elected representatives.”

I include definitions to demonstrate the similarity of the two. They are not quite the same, but they are very closely aligned.

To vilify others because of an affiliation as Democrat or Republican is ludicrous, but we are encouraged to do so by those who benefit by sowing divisiveness and concentrating on issues that keep us apart, rather than leading us into areas of agreement and unity. We might be, first and foremost, human and planetary citizens; next, Americans, and then whatever our political affiliations call us to be.

As such, and as holders of the right to vote, it is our responsibility to vote. To not vote is an egregious error on the part of a citizen, perhaps the worst that can be made short of treason. If we believe it’s too much trouble, inconvenient or ineffectual; if we act as if one vote, more or less, makes no difference; if we remain apathetic about our representatives and where they are leading us; we move closer to living in a country where some won’t have the right to vote, based on the whims, ambitions and agendas of leadership. And if that happens, it follows that some won’t have the right to drive, either.

Vote on Tuesday, Nov. 3. Make no assumption or excuses about who will win if you don’t. Exercise your responsibility.


This column is cross-posted from the Sandpoint Reader of September 10, 2020.