Thursday, October 1, 2020

Save Democracy? Do We Even HAVE One?

Appalling. Disgraceful. Embarrassment. 

That’s my review of Trump’s performance at Tuesday’s debate. Anti-maskers, white supremacists, those untouched or unmoved by two-hundred-ten-thousand deaths, extremely rude people, and Tommy will disagree. 

Moving on... 

Both sides say democracy is at stake in November. Republican warnings, though, are fake news, whereas Democrats are describing what’s actually happening. To wit: Trump prophesizes, while Trumpists say “amen,” that if Joe Biden is elected, voting will have been fraudulent, America will become socialist, borders will dissolve, police and military will be defunded, and dark-skinned people will move into your neighborhood and rape (possibly eat) your children.

Democrats point to actual events: widespread, multi-faceted voter suppression, discrediting voting by mail, Republicans looking away as Trump dismantles every Constitutional protection against autocracy, including firing departmental inspectors general that speak out. And tipping the economic scales even more toward the already-wealthy, furthering top-heavy wealth redistribution that threatens the survival of capitalism; and, as economic and political power is funneled upward, democracy. There’s nothing imaginary about any of that. 

But do we even live in a democracy? If it’s a system of government in which the preferences of the governed have the ultimate say on the behavior of that government, the answer is, increasingly, no. And therein is the most fundamental difference between the parties: Republicans want even less power allocated to average citizens, Democrats want more. The rest is just noise. 

If Greeks invented democracy, they, like our founders, also distrusted it. The wealth-holding ruling class has always worried about vesting too much power in the “have-nots.” In his writings about the city-state, Aristotle, not exactly an egalitarian, suggested that providing the non-ruling class with value, like education and an obtainable route to happiness, made revolution unlikely. 

Choosing another option, our founders went with limiting the influence of “regular” citizens. Thus, the Electoral College. Thus, senators chosen by state legislatures, not voters. Granting only to white men the right to vote. Many, in fact, argued that only white, male, landowners should be granted the franchise. 

Unable to resolve the balance between rights of “property owners” and “the majority without property,” Madison’s words, the founders punted, leaving the solution to the states. For many years, in many states, only landed males could vote. Today’s Republican party is, effectively if not literally, trying to return us to those days, and they’re close to accomplishing it. Of the two ways to retain control, namely reducing the influence of voters, versus reducing economic disparity, Republicans, choosing party power and personal money, are working to close door number two. That’s what this election is about. 

The history of tectonic change in America is one of massive, nationwide protest. When laws and lawmakers block the avenues of redress, demonstrations are a natural result. Sadly, when there are huge numbers of demonstrators, violence is ineluctable, either from the most frustrated and angry of the protestors, or, as is mostly the case now, from people trying to discredit the protests and prevent the changes they demand from happening. Because those changes threaten their minority rule. 

In America, economic and political power are inseparable. What we’ve been seeing in the past several months, the protests and the reactions to them, are echoes of those founding barriers, as were the uprisings that gave women the vote, led to the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts, ended the Vietnam War. In all of those cases, more “civil” ways to achieve them had failed. 

Thanks to Republicans and their artisanal judiciary, citizens’ influence on policy has steadily diminished, as we’re dragged, blindfolded, to plutocracy; which leads, eventually, to Trumpian autocracy. Mitt Romney famously reminded us, “Corporations are people, my friend.” And, we’ve been told, money is speech. In its Citizens United ruling, the Supreme Court handed unlimited influence to the wealthiest people; both the corporate and metabolizing kind. Democracy, already sickened by Reaganomics, took to bed. 

The only “people” who benefit from deregulating poisons are dark-money-donating corporations. Only oil companies profit from ignoring climate change. Those dangers become legislation by muting the voices of voters most damaged by them, which, ironically, includes Trump’s propagandized enablers; and by having in-pocket judges and paid-for legislators. It couldn’t happen if the majority of voters had comparable power. 

Which explains the anti-democracy actions of today’s Republicans: limiting your health, wealth, and power, in order to maintain theirs. It also explains their shameless whitewashing of Trump’s detestable, America-debasing behavior Tuesday night. 

American democracy may be increasingly illusory, but November can keep it from disappearing entirely. 

Added: Trump/Covid. We wish him well and will refrain from speculating.

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