Mid-term elections are right around the corner, less than a week away, and politicians of all stripes are making the last-minute pitches to earn your vote. From local races and state propositions to Congress and Senate seats, there is plenty to choose from when you head out to cast your ballot.

But beyond repealing the infernal gas tax there are bigger issues on the ballot, even if they aren’t listed with a circle to fill in.

This election is not just about health care, the economy or jobs. It really isn’t just about trade agreements or tariffs. Not just about the fight against ISIS or Al Qaeda. It isn’t even about the temperament and fitness of one President Donald J. Trump.

And it isn’t really even about being a Democrat or a Republican.

This election is about what you value about being an American, and the role of the U.S. government. Period.

Does putting America and Americans first mean we value the citizens of the world less? Or does it only mean that our government, which we fund and give consent to rule our society, values its citizens more than those of other countries?

I refuse to allow culture, media and elites to make patriotism, dare I say nationalism, into something evil. Nationalism is not about the color of someone’s skin or what church one attends. It is not ethnic-statism. It isn’t anything but valuing what is good about America. It is about ideas and ideals. It is about self-determination and liberty. It is about creating opportunity for all Americans. It is not about equal outcomes, which can never be promised, but equal opportunities. It is about taking risks, sometimes failing, but learning and moving on to try again.

We are a country of second chances and cheering for the underdog. We appreciate those who work hard and succeed. We celebrate those who have overcome huge obstacles to reach amazing pinnacles. We help our neighbors and friends when they suffer tragedy or strife. We have a natural distrust of concentrated power, held in the hands of a single party or group.

Is it more important to deal with middle class America’s 10-plus percent wage decline over the last couple of decades, or to approve another trade agreement to a Third World country to make cheaper plastic things that break in two weeks? We have major issues in our future with the advancement of technologies - and huge segments of workers who will be displaced. Is it really the time to import huge swaths of immigrants who are not educated and looking for work in the same segments of the economy that tech is filling.

Make no mistake, we as Americans have a duty to the world, to help and to lead. Americans are more charitable, on the whole, than any other nation. We have answered the call in every major disaster, natural or otherwise. Not just with money, but with American ingenuity and expertise, as we should for our fellow man. Not because our government compels us, but because we want a better world.

We cannot allow people to bully others into agreement. Not shooting up or throwing rocks through windows of political offices. Not yelling at politicians eating dinner with their spouses. Not shooting people for practicing their faith because you dislike some tangental group’s immigration policy.

That is not what America is about.

We have the choice about what direction our towns, counties, state and nation take. We have a duty to choose that direction. Not through coercion, but through voting.

It all starts at the ballot box. It is our voice.

We are at a crossroad in our country. Both parties are in flux. There is not just a realignment politically right now, but in society as well. We have seen huge shifts in our nation, which of course is reflected in our politics.

I have my opinions about which direction our nation should take. We are finally seeing economic growth and positive gains across the board. Wages are going up for a lot of Americans. And I know we can do better.

Maybe you don’t agree with the direction. Goodness knows I personally have plenty of complaints about Republican leadership.

But that is the beauty of our system… you, my fellow Americans, get to decide.

So make sure you vote. Get to your polling place. Don’t forget to mail your absentee ballot. Have your voice heard. It is your right and privilege to have your say in how you are governed.

Staff columnist Toni Butero can be reached at tbutero@mattosnews.com or by calling (209) 862-2222.