Independent Voters Need to Stop Whining About Primaries and Register the Party They Probably Already Agree With 99% of the Time

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This is the time of year when every non-party registered, Independent-registered, voter whines about having to pay for the primaries.

Zency goes on in his op-ed to explain why this is such an “injustice”.

Now it’s true, as I wrote back then, that the U.S. Supreme Court clearly says political parties have a First Amendment right to determine who may vote in “their” political primaries. 

The question is whether political parties have a First Amendment right to force you to pay for their candidate selection process.

I don’t think so 

If you are going to participate in a primary election that you help pay for, you are forced to affiliate with a political party. That violates your First Amendment rights.


California recently adopted a much fairer primary election system by voter initiative.

All candidates of all parties appear on a ballot available to all registered voters within the relevant district. The top two vote getters move on to the general election in the fall. The winners could be two Republicans, or two Democrats, one of each party. A so-called minor party candidate might even win a spot on the fall ballot.

This way, taxpayers are not forced to subsidize a process that’s stacked in favor of two political parties. 

The reason that the government oversees and therefore pays for elections, including primaries, is because the government is the best entity to provide the public good of free and fair elections, crucial to any democratic process. 

I am not sure how Zency establishes that closed primary elections violate his constitutionally protected right to free speech. That aside, closed primaries have a valuable effect on the American political system.

In keeping our primaries closed, exclusionary to non-party registered voters, it keeps non-party registered, but still ideologically affiliated voters from raiding ideologically affiliated party elections. Senator Rob Teplitz has introduced a bill that pretty much guarantees this. 

Raiding destroys the credibility and predictability of party labels in national, state, and some local elections. It leads to less competitive elections, less accountability of electeds to voters, and greater corruption. Seth Masket explains why.

Most voters have little idea what individual members of a legislature are doing from day to day, but they can evaluate the performance of the majority party, and if they don’t like the way things are going, they can vote in a new party. This kind of partisanship brings some accountability to the system. Legislatures with weak or nonexistent parties are often quite collegial, but they do not produce obviously better laws, and they want for accountability and may be more prone to corruption.

What do you do then if you are registered independent and steamed that you cannot vote in PA’s primaries? 

Register with a party! Most people already identify ideologically on the political spectrum, even if they are registered otherwise. 

But what about the supposedly successful, non-partisan, California System?

Parties responded to that system by endorsing candidates prior to the primary, conveying to voters who the preferred Democrats and Republicans are. And it turns out those endorsements are pretty important, giving backed candidates an extra ten points or so in the primary election.

Here’s the beauty part: The candidates have figured out that those endorsements matter, so they’re starting to suck up to party elites to win them. As Roll Call reports:

California’s new top-two primary system was supposed to revolutionize the state’s political process. Instead, it’s forcing candidates to revert to an antiquated practice: competing for the state party’s endorsement.

I suppose reformers can take credit for helping to bring about greater competition in primaries. But it also appears to be the case that the top-two system has strengthened the hand of party leaders. Candidates recognize the value of the endorsement, and they’re willing to pay a price, perhaps ideologically, to win it.

So to recap, register with a party that most closely fits your ideology, and then support the candidates and officials within that party that share your views. That is how to create more competitive elections and the political outcomes you desire. 


This entry was posted in Elections, National Politics, Regional Politics, State Politics.

64 Responses to Independent Voters Need to Stop Whining About Primaries and Register the Party They Probably Already Agree With 99% of the Time

  1. Albert Brooks says:

    Sometimes I think you are just a little bit out there and sometimes I’m sure you say things just to get a reaction but this one is beyond the pale. I’m guessing you finally got your red star on your socialist party card for coming up with the idea that people HAVE to register with the (a) party in order to vote. A citizen should be able to vote for the person who can best do the job and they are able to in most non-back-assward states not named Pennsylvania.

    • stcif01 says:

      Not saying you have to register with a party, just that you should. I am also saying that financing these elections are a worthwhile expenditure.

      Without party labels how would you expect people to pick “the best person”. It’s these labels that hold the candidates and electeds accountable to their constituents.

      Also PA is in the majority with closed party elections. There are only 19 states with open primaries and many of those are only semi open.

  2. bob says:

    “register with a party that most closely fits your ideology, and then support the candidates and officials within that party that share your views.”

    What if there isn’t a party that fits with my ideology? As an individual voter, am I not entitled to equal access to the democratic process as someone who is registered with a party?

    • stcif01 says:

      There are limits to every democratic process and ours happens to be here. We do not live in a direct democracy. I am arguing expanding those boundaries in this process is not necessarily desirable because of what we lose in doing so.

    • Jon Geeting says:

      If you don’t identify more with one party than the other, you probably don’t pay much attention to politics.

  3. Robert Winn says:

    Forget it. We do not believe in political parties. They are exactly what George Washington said they were. So you are telling us now that 46% of the voters are registered independent that you think political parties are going to keep their position of political aristocracy. I don’t see it happening. Before this election takes place there may be more independent voters than party members. Your dwindling little major parties are on the way out. Good riddance.

    • Jon Geeting says:

      Actually most independents behave just like partisans of one party or the other. Only about 7% of voters are true independents with no preference, and they don’t pay that much attention to politics.

      • Albert Brooks says:

        You can not justify your position with an opinion piece that bases its conclusions non-reviewed or math (in this case).

        • Jon Geeting says:

          It’s not an opinion piece. It really is the case that most independents lean toward one party or the other.

          • Robert Winn says:

            Party politicians have passed election laws in all states in recent years designed to keep independent voters from running for office as independent candidates. The fact that there are no independent candidates on the ballot does not mean independent voters lean toward one party or the other. They have no choice but to vote for party candidates as long as the two major parties control elections because there are no independent candidates. The few independent candidates there are receive no publicity because the news media is paid to be a propaganda agency for two party corruption. The only problem Republicans and Democrats have is that they cannot stop independent voter registration, so the two-party system is going to be rejected by the voters in the United States.

  4. David Diano says:

    1) Why would anyone think that Independents agree with one of parties 99% of the time? I’d expect it’s more 60/40 to 50/50.
    2) Some people are socially liberal, but fiscally conservative.
    3) Some don’t see much difference among primary candidates within the same party.

    What is needed is
    1) reforms to allow Independent 3rd parties candidates get on the ballot easier
    2) make the redistricting non-partisan rather than gerrymandered to the point that the party is pre-determined by force (rather than naturally by compact districts)

    • Paludicola says:

      I doubt the real number of, “socially liberal, but fiscally conservative,” people, because if there that many, people would run on it. Just look cross-nationally; Liberal parties, which are what that ideological description comes close enough to describing outside of the United States and its goofy political terminology, tend to be at best also-rans and trapped in being coalition partners with conservative parties. (This has proven disastrous lately too; just look at the FDP in Germany or Liberal Democrats in the United Kingdom)

      I don’t think that your reforms would address the problem. Reform #1 would probably just increase the number of no-name and fringe candidates on the ballot. Reform #2 would be a good thing, but I doubt that it would create a multipartisan system.

      Party systems seem to be products of political culture. It may not be feasible to create a multipartisan system in the United States. It might also not be desirable. I don’t know, but agitators for it always just assume their way past that.

      Neveretheless, there are some reforms that might work to achieve that end, but they would be relatively radical for the United States, so all are long-shots.

      1. Adopt proportional (List Proportional Representation or Mixed-Member Proportional Representation) or semi-proportional (STV) representation.
      2. Use large multiple-member districts. (This is implied by #2, but I thought that it merited being pointed out since it’s important)
      3. Adopt a parliamentary or at least semi-presidential system. (Party discipline is higher in these systems than in presidential ones, because the government is chosen by Parliament and must maintain the confidence of a majority of it, so party organizations are stronger and clearer, which also makes them more exclusive, making the kind of big-tent parties that gobble partisan divides up less feasible)

      None of this is guaranteed to work. Scandinavia and the low countries have all three with list PR and are highly multipartisan. Ireland and Australia have all three with STV and are modestly multipartisan. The United Kingdom has #3 and does have some third parties. Japan has #3 (In theory) and halfway has #1 and #2, but is a dominant party state. Also bear in mind that in multipartisan countries, parties tend to form, with varying formality, political alliances built around the largest parties, such as the United Left vs. Union for a Presidential Majority in France or Common Good vs. Forza Italia (or whatever Berlusconi calls it now) in Italy.

      Adding extensive public financing of elections as a #4 might be useful as well.

      From the perspective of state and local elections, creating a three-tiered system of separate Federal, Commonwealth and local parties with Chinese Walls between them should be added as #3.

      If nothing else, when considering political reform, think carefully about what outcomes you want vs. what are possible or likely and remember that other countries exist. Especially Australia,

    • Jon Geeting says:

      Only about 7% of voters are true independents who don’t have a real preference. And they are mostly lower-information voters who don’t pay much attention to politics. Everybody else really does have a party preference, they just (stupidly) aren’t registered with the party they vote for all the time, even though they behave like partisans of that party in every other way that matters.

      It doesn’t have to be 99% agreement. 51-60% of the time is enough to justify party registration. People who disagree frequently with the direction of the party they’re closest to should *especially* register to vote with that party. They need to get more involved, not less, and volunteer with/donate to the candidates who most closely match their views.

  5. stcif01 says:

    Not so sure greater ballot access is necessarily better. W/o viable third party, the third party vote is a serious boondoggle, Nader 00′.

    You can say,” without ballot access how will we get that viability,” but I’m gonna counter that positing that the 2-party system weakening effects of a lowered bar make the change not worth it.

    Not to mention we are constitutionally prohibited from having a parliamentary system. Dividing the votes further in say congress or the Senate would slow things down way more than they already have been.

    Socially conservatism derives from economic conservatism (classical liberalism) even if they don’t know it. The person you describe who is socially liberal, and econ con (assuming they are smart enough to know the GOP isn’t any more fiscally responsible than Dms) is probably a libertarian. Small govt and minimal regulations being the most important thing for them siding with GOP and changing its course would still be their best choice especially as progress continues to move in the social liberals favor. See Peter Theel.

  6. Carl Feldman says:

    Not saying they have to register with a party, just that they should. Also saying that the state paying for it is a worthwhile expenditure.

    Only 19 states (generously) have open primaries, Pa is in the majority on it.

    How would you expect people make a decision on who is the best candidate without the assistance of the party label? Parties increase accountability to their constituients, not decrease it.

  7. Pingback: 5/23 Morning Buzz | PoliticsPA

  8. Paul C says:

    Don’t understand the open primary, why should someone not registered with a party get to say who makes it to the november ballot. Want to vote in a primary join a party. It’s that simple.

    • Robert Winn says:

      Independent voters can’t understand closed primaries. Party members say that political parties should be like private clubs; only party members should get to vote in party primaries. The Mickey Mouse Club was a private club, and only Mickey Mouse Club members were allowed to vote in Mickey Mouse Club elections. The difference between the Mickey Mouse Club and the Republican and Democratic Parties was that the Mickey Mouse Club did not claim to be a national party that had to be supported by public revenues.

  9. Ed says:

    What a load of BS. The reasons that Ds and Rs are losing credibility and enhancing the validity of Independent voters is that they have both failed to represent the American voter, instead preferring to pander to purely political ambitions and kicking to the curb the entire concept and practice of public service.

  10. Tim Potts says:

    At every election, I look at the races that concern me most and register with the party in whose primary I want to vote. Sometimes I register to vote against someone, sometimes to vote for someone.

    Of course, this is a royal pain the the butt. And if there are two races I care about — one R and one D — I’m screwed 50%.

    I cannot believe that there is no better system than this. Don’t try to defend the idiotic in pursuit of the merely stupid.

  11. Carl Feldman says:

    When you do that, you are doing the “raiding” that I argue is not a desirable phenomenon. Maybe you are part of that 7% that is truly independent? Statistically it’s not likely.

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  13. Steve Armold says:

    Independents whining about paying for primaries they can’t vote in? You know what you can go do to yourself, Carl.

  14. Tom Bishop says:

    We need a party that represents the 99%. The two parties we have now represent the 1%.

    • Jon Geeting says:

      The parties represent most voters’ opinions on the issues. That’s why elections are so close. They really do strive to win a little more than half the voters.

    • James says:

      Then use the primary system to change one of the parties!

    • Robert Winn says:

      We don’t need parties. We need independent candidates for public office. The reason why there are none is because political party politicians since about 1970 have been busy passing state election laws that increase nomination petition signature requirements for independent candidates so that now in some states, independent candidates are required to get as many as seven times as many nomination petition signatures as a Democrat or Republican running for the same office.

      • steventodd says:

        Amen: We don’t need parties. We need independent candidates. I say this as a Democratic Committee member.

        • Paludicola says:

          Why do we need them? What would it accomplish? What is the actual outcome that results? Why would said outcome be likely? How would it be better? All of this crowing about independent candidates seems pretty well faith-based. Sometimes it decays into outright cargo-cult political theory where we’re in some sinful state, fallen from the shining utopia of the founding that we can return to if only we imitate the what is probably an naïve, ahistorical fantasy of the ways of that golden age of a fragile, undeveloped slave holding agrarian coastal republic of four million people that disenfranchised women and the poor.

          • Ed H. says:

            George Washington was generally a pragmatic President except for his desire to not see political parties. He was being naive when he wrote that, because human nature has tendencies to see like minded people band together for common aims and goals. The dependent class of non-party aligned, and third party aligned, voters and candidate, never seem to be able to look at themselves with logic or common sense. They want it their way, while wielding no political power that a party can bring to the table. Even a dope like Ron Paul knew enough to ditch the dependent Libertarian Party to get elected to office. The best Ralph Nader can offer up for his political legacy is that he made sure George W. Bush was elected President, and that Nader’s political goals were trampled in the mud of stupid that he represented as a Presidential candidate.

          • Robert Winn says:

            We need them in order to get rid of these two corrupt major parties. Your Democratic Party Committeeman does not want independent candidates. He wants to turn independent voters into a political party to replace the Republican Party in the two-party system.
            Independent voters want what they once had, direct access to the general election ballot.

  15. Ed H. says:

    There is no such thing as an “Independent” in politics. Try are non-party aligned, or third party aligned dependents on the Democratic and Republican Parties to make their decisions for them. They disenfranchise themselves by not participating in primary elections, so their whining isn’t relevant.

  16. phillydem says:

    FTR, non-partisan/”independent” voters can and do vote in primaries. They can vote on all ballot questions/referendums, just not the partisan candidates.

    • Ed H. says:

      On Tuesday in Philadelphia, the non-party and third party aligned people also had the chance to vote in a Special Election for City Council at Large.
      But, one thing that has been stated correctly on this blog is that if you don’t participate in the process of one of the two major parties in primaries, then bitching about no choices in November has no weight behind it.

  17. James says:

    I get amused by all these familiar diatribes about how there’s no difference between the two parties when it comes from people on the left. If you don’t like the Democratic party, then do what the post-Goldwater conservatives did with the Republican party: take it over and change it from within. Otherwise stop whining. There are no other alternatives. Nothing else will work in a first past the post, strong presidential system.

    As far as the purpose of the post goes, as Carl Feldman and Jon Geeting noted, the government has to organize primary elections because it’s the only entity with the resources and legitimacy to do so effectively. Those bringing up the California system are demonstrating that they aren’t interested in effective governance, but rather just preventing progressives from being elected and progressive policy from being implemented. The current California system was designed to increase the likelihood business interests could elect corporatist Democrats and block progressives as California increasing trends blue and becomes a one-party state. There’s a reason similar legislation isn’t being pushed in any Republican dominated states.

    Open primaries allow the same thing to occur, and although I’m sympathetic to arguments for universal open primaries on good governance grounds, in practice calls to move to such a system are most likely attempts to block progressives. There really isn’t anything wrong with the current primary system in Pennsylvania. If you feel left out, then register with a party and join the fun!

    • Robert Winn says:

      There is no “fun” in party controlled elections, just dishonest people playing with large amounts of money.

      • James says:

        I think you’re confusing “closed primary elections” with “elections”.

        • Robert Winn says:

          There are no real elections any more. Independent voters are prevented from being candidates by unrealistic nomination petition requirements which are upheld by federal courts. So the question will remain, Why doesn’t the Voting Rights Act of 1965 include independent voters?

  18. steventodd says:

    Boo, on this one, Carl. No way. We The People need to change our laws and policies to fit us, not change our affiliations to accommodate a flawed and arguably obsolete system. We need to level the playing field to break the two-party duopoly that does not and can not represent us, if it ever could. There is a laundry list of how, oft-discussed and in no need of repeating, almost all have widespread (mulit-partisan, even) support. At the very, very least we must agree with Zancy’s valid point. Either open our primaries, or quite charging folks who don’t like either my own Democrats or the only other team allowed at the table.

  19. Robert Winn says:

    You sound as though you would enjoy living in eastern Ukraine. In that location people need to be labeled pro-Russian or pro Ukrainian. Or if you really like majority rule, maybe Crimea would be more to your liking.

  20. Robert Winn says:

    A true independent agrees with George Washington’s assessment that political parties are incapable of providing good government and will always trade government control for the freedom of the people.

    • James says:

      Yes, all the founders despised political parties, and worried that the formation of factions would undermine the integrity of the Republic. Until, of course, they got to the business of governing, disagreed with each other, and promptly formed competing factions! As they do in all representative democracies. Oh, the horror!

      • Robert Winn says:

        Right, and so it became a contest to gain control of the judicial branch of government. Since the Republican-Democrat Party was successful in that endeavor, the Supreme Court became the legislative body of the nation, and imposed slavery on the United States for the next sixty years.

  21. Robert Winn says:

    Independent voters are not allowed to run for public office under present day federal court interpretation. Party controlled federal courts have ruled that states can require independent candidates to get seven times as many nomination petition signatures as Democrats or Republicans to get on the ballot.
    So my question is, Why aren’t independent voters protected by the Voting Rights Act of 1965?
    Oh, I get it. I order to be protected by the laws of the United States, a person has to register Democrat or Republican.
    Too late, party members. your dwindling little two-party system is being abandoned by the voters.

    • James says:

      Since apparently a lot of readers of this site don’t particularly like the current two-party system, let me ask what exactly you would all like to replace it with? As long as we live in a first past the post electoral system with a strong executive, we’re going to have two competing coalitions. The parties look the way they do because that’s the most representative a coalition can be while still having a chance at winning a majority of voters in an election. Just because you might not completely agree with either of the two parties doesn’t mean it’s not doing exactly what it’s supposed to do, and exactly what is has to do, given the contours of our political system. So either you have to push for a constitutional convention to dramatically reshape the Presidency or otherwise completely overhauls the electoral system, or I think you need to reevaluate your prescriptions for what ails American politics.

      • Robert Winn says:

        Political parties are what ails the United States and have been the problem since the election of 1800. So here is your problem: You cannot stop American citizens from registering as independent voters. By my calculations, about 46% of United States voters are now registered independent. That means that before the election of 2014 there will probably be more independent voters in the United States than party members. People in this country are tired of your kind of government.
        We are going to get rid of these two corrupt major parties. When we have independent voters running against independent voters and being elected the way it was before 1800, we will believe we have restored free and open elections in the United States.

        • Jon Geeting says:

          Completely disagree that there’s a problem with political parties. Our parties aren’t strong enough!

        • James says:

          Well, that’s just silly.

          Also, amused that you refer to the system as my king of government, since I don’t like having a two party system. I’d prefer a proportional representation multiparty parliamentary system with a weak executive! But that’s not happening, so I try to find ways to work within the system we have.

  22. steventodd says:

    Many comments stray and go to great length to explain why the author finds the two-party system good (or, in most cases, seemingly good enough). I disagree, but it is irrelevant. A free government of, by, and for the sovereign people can only be as they want it. Not what it theoretically should be or is supposed to be. A substantial portion of us are independent or third party, and it wouldn’t matter if none were.

    To the point of this blog, independents and third parties must not be made to pay for a process opened only those in two parties, both of which they have opted out.

    • Ed H. says:

      People have to remember how the primary system came to be. It came about because before the advent of FEC, and other state entities similar to that, party leaders decided who the nominees would be. Primaries were started to give voters control over who the nominees would be. And as has been pointed out before, a) state governments are large enough and have the resources to fairly and effectively provide elections for the primary systems. It added a more democratic process to our political system. As for paying for stuff that doesn’t directly benefit you… Too bad. I pay for all kinds of programs that do not directly benefit me or my family. Much of it I agree with, like help for single moms, insurance for poor kids, street or highway repairs for rural or suburban roads I’ll never see, etc. if you don’t like it, join a major party, change the party from within and convince enough voters to elect a person from your new major party to end the practice. Third party membership, and other dependent voters just won’t ever get it done.

      • Robert Winn says:

        Party primaries were started to stop the populist movement. Democrats were tired of running Populist candidate William Jennings Bryan for President. Republicans did not want anything even similar to Populism to get started in their party. So they proclaimed themselves national parties with a state sponsored primary election to be paid for from public revenues. We can see the direction that takes the nation from watching other state sponsored national parties, the Fascist Party in Italy, the National Socialists in Germany, and the Communist Party in Communist nations. The difference between elections now and elections when party primaries started is that back then, independent voters were still allowed to run for public office.

      • steventodd says:

        Well, then your system is an abject failure. Voters have no control over who the nominees would be. Committees from the only two teams allowed at the table hand pick them. As one who has been involved in that process, the vetting includes the following concerns in order: 1) How much cash can the prospect raise? 2) Who does said prospect know (among The Political Class), and 3) How well can the prospect talk shop? Their positions if discussed – and sometimes they are not – are far down the list among these super enclaves of the disconnected.

        • Ed H. says:

          You say you’ve been a part of the process, and then describe something that doesn’t resemble the process. The primary elections are decided by the party voters who come out on Election Day, for those candidates who submit the required signatures for nomination petitions.

          • steventodd says:

            Where are you referring to that my description doesn’t match the process? It is exactly that way in Dauphin County, PA. I can’t imagine it much different in other counties.

          • Why do you obfuscate what Steven said? He wasn’t talking about primary day. He was talking about what happens long before that.

          • Ed H. says:

            Because at the end of the day, the voters pick the nominee for the party. There’s no obfuscation from me. I merely pointed out an error in his description.

          • Ed H.: It wasn’t an error. Parties often have their preferred candidate, for what ever reason. Look at the DCCC. If you actually researched it you’d know Steven Todd is right.

          • steventodd says:

            Everyone who serves or has served on a committee for either major party knows my account is dead on what happens, long (months) before a candidate is publicly heard of. Believe what you want.

          • Ed H. says:

            Preferred candidates lose when the voters pick someone else. Preferred candidates win when the voters support them with votes. Not enough votes in the primary means no nomination.

          • steventodd says:

            You do have the textbook definition correct, as we were taught in 2nd grade or so. It just doesn’t reflect the actual world I live and interact in. I want it to, so I am working to change it.

            Just how often do these free and sovereign voters pick someone else, as a percentage of all folks elected? I don’t know, but I am certain it is far less than 1% of the time.

            Of those, how often are they not Dems or Rs? Here, I am certain it is far less than 0.1% of the time.

          • Ed H. says:

            Your world doesn’t reflect reality. Or political reality. If one guy runs in a primary, it’s not his fault no one else steps up to bat. If twenty people run in a primary, then the electorate has plenty of choices, and the plurality of votes decides the winner, as democratic elections see happen. Some states even have run-off elections if no one receives 50%+1 or more of the votes. Then, there is the option of write in votes, even if a candidate fails to get on the ballot. In 100% of the time, the electorate chooses our nominees, then goes on to choose the winner of the general election.
            As far as non-party aligned and third party aligned candidates are concerned, they disenfranchise themselves by being such. Which they’ll always disenfranchise themselves as dependents and third party candidates as long as there isn’t a proportional representative system, like many parliaments are. There’s also an argument to be made for goin to a Prime minister as an Executive, or the Condorcet Method of choosing the Executive.
            In the end, you’re railing against the system, when its just that people don’t bother to disenfranchise their votes on the people you support. And, your view of the system is blinded to those facts. If you want to see dependent candidates and their third party counterparts to be relevant, build them a party that becomes one of the two biggest to have a shot at being elected to office. Work for it, and stop with the complaining that no one sees them as relevant. Nothing short of a US constitutional convention could change the system.

          • steventodd says:

            We agree only on “nothing short of a US constitutional convention could change the system.” We are building up to that. No where near the numbers yet, but farther than a few years ago.

            If another (1) party becomes one of the only two that matter, that solves nothing. It replaces one of the duopoly and starts anew. We need a level playing field, not a shuffling of the deck chairs.

            The system doesn’t represent us, unless we join the system. That is 100% backwards, and those sovereign people who choose not to join it should NOT stop whining and join anyway, shrug there shoulders and say “oh well, this is good enough. They told me so in civics class.” That is we weak, it is not what our country was founded on or what it should be about going forward.