I rise today in defense of an oft-maligned group that has become the target of political zealots and of too many Americans who are convinced that voting is a silver bullet to address social inequalities. In today’s political reality show, we are led to believe that Democrats and Republicans are engaged in an ideological death struggle. Consequently, the divides between the two parties and their respective bases get wider with each successive generation of voters.

However, irrespective of their supposed differences, Republicans and Democrats alike find it easy to castigate people who don’t vote.

This is a form of victim-blaming and stems from misplaced frustrations. In 2016 alone, more than 100 million people skipped the presidential election. This act of abstention is viewed by some as apathy and dereliction of civic duty; however, what some see as evidence of sloth, I see as a show of dissension. Our political system is a charade mixed with a heavy dose of fiction, so people who choose to sit out elections may well have decided to opt out of a farce instead of opting into a racket.

Voting has become an opioid doled out to the public to let us vent our frustrations and to offer us illusions of change. Major-party politicians—who take loyalty pledges to their party, which in either case has entered into a blood oath with the neo-aristocracy—are paraded out on a regular basis to promise a new day once they are elected. The minute the last vote is counted that vision morphs back into the old nightmare of wealth transference to the uber-rich and to financial anxieties for the rest of us.

To say that our political system is broken is the most severe of understatements. Two political parties, which are informed by the same ideology of corporate fascism, are colluding to monopolize access and to exclude anyone who does not join their cartel. They contrast at the margins, but when it comes to the core issues of economic and foreign policies, both parties are different mainly in brand. Democrats use concern and paternalism, while Republicans turn to values and piety, to accomplish the same objectives: to enrich their donors and enhance their own fortunes.

Sadly, instead of focusing on this reprehensible nepotism that has taken over our government and effectively rendered the citizenry impotent to the whims of multinational corporations and oligarchs, we bludgeon each other over politics. Key players in the media-political complex—from pundits and politicians to media personalities—are vested in the status quo. They dare not point out the transgressions of political and social constructs that rupture society and ghettoize people behind walls of ideology and imposed identities. The few voices, including Chris Hedges, Cornel West and others who are unheralded because they refuse to pander to ideology or identity-based politics, have their status and access to mainstream media revoked and are treated as persona non grata.

In an industry infected by narcissists and egotistic divas, mainstream journalists and personalities fear nothing more than losing their insider privilege. Instead of challenging authority and questioning government narratives, they fall in line, echoing partisan talking points and corporate propaganda. This is what happens when the influence of billionaires commandeers almost every institution and lever of power; the level of spending correlates at nearly a 1-to-1 ratio with the eventual winner of political campaigns. We are led by a cadre of gawkers who fawn at the emperor’s invisible attire.

In this scheme, those who speak up and mention that the monarchs have no clothes on are lashed back into compliance or mocked as deviants. It is easier to heap scorn on those who defy than it is to question one’s own complicity. This is why Hillary Clinton fanatics are given to treating each Donald Trump indignity as an invitation to berate anyone who did not vote for the candidate who cackled while Tripoli was burning. To which I retort: Donald Trump would not be president if Barack Obama did not spend eight years catering to the whims of Wall Street and treating his loyal supporters as stage props, and if Clinton did not sign up to fulfill every Wall Street neoliberal’s wish list.

To dissect how we got to where we are—short on alternatives and presented with limited choices as a “democracy”—requires seeking out the root causes that contribute to social inequalities and spread iniquities. Our political system is a reflection of our values, and as long as we place self-enrichment above communal wellness, we will keep getting leaders who cater to our grievances and disregard our common struggles. Sadly, we have been so conditioned to think short-term and believe in quick fixes that we no longer seem able to evaluate social issues with nuance.

Meanwhile, our political process is feeding our basest tribal instincts. Politics has become an us-versus-them proposition for this reason, as folks vote in keeping with their “gang colors” and cliques instead of debating ideas sans ideology. Voting has become an end instead of a means of delivering solutions; the electorate would rather outsource the hard work required to build up our country and our communities to the same politicians who are sabotaging us with their avarice.

Gaslighting nonconformists and ridiculing people who refuse to endorse this two-party scam might feel good to some political enthusiasts, but in the end it does not ameliorate the systematic and institutional graft that is tearing apart our nation and causing problems beyond our borders. I’m not advocating that we give up, abdicate our civic responsibilities or live off the grid disconnected from the world. There are many ways to loosen the stranglehold that Democrats and Republicans have on our government. Here are a couple: Either build viable parties to compete with the duopoly in Washington, D.C., or banish party identification and let people compete for votes based on candidates’ ideas.

Our political apparatus is broken and in need of a major overhaul. It is time for us to stop viewing politics as a sport and stop believing that restricted ballots offer a real choice. If we want a government that works for us and a democracy that represents all instead of a few, we must focus on the disease instead of obsessing about the symptoms. We might also place the onus where it belongs—on the perpetrators—rather than blaming the victims.

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