As shocking as it is that we’ve come to this, it’s even more shocking that, to a third of the country, “this” makes them happy. They’re glad America has come to this.
Racists are never going to like Democracy because every election is a gamble — that is, if you let everybody vote. The whole point of voter suppression and gerrymandering is make the gamble almost negligible as a gamble. If less Democratic voters turn out because they 1) couldn’t register or 2) registered but couldn’t spend ten hours in line to vote, that’s as good as a vote against whatever the Democrats wanted. This is not a new game. And though it’s wrong to shame the victim — and the Democrats have always been the Republicans’ victim — the Democrats have known since Nixon (and before) how Republicans ticked. After a while, one has to stand up for oneself because no one else is going to.
On the day he resigned from office because of Watergate, Nixon’s approval rating sat around 29%. His guilt was so undeniable that a delegation of Republicans (including Barry Goldwater — the conservative’s conservative) went to Nixon to tell him he had to resign. That’s how bad it was then. The 30% is still there. They’ve filled out a bit but they’re still very much there.
So, a third of the country couldn’t care less if America sinks into authoritarianism. In fact, they’d celebrate if it happened. With a (theoretical) 70% majority, you’d think the rest of us would have long ago figured out how to keep the crazies in check. But half that 70% doesn’t care about politics (or didn’t). In America, we think 50% – 60% of the voters showing up at election time is success. Hopefully the days of disengagement are over. But, for now, all we can point at is our history.
Come election time, too many of us stay home. In 2016, 138 million of us voted. Unfortunately that was only 56% of eligible voters. That’s over 40% of American voters never showing up to meet their most basic, most important, most innately democratic responsibility as American citizens.
Ben Franklin saw us coming. As he observed 240 years ago — Republic’s are wonderful things — if you can keep them. They don’t get kept by accident.
Keeping a republic alive and well is damned hard work. Of all Americans, the people who’ve worked hardest to keep our republic alive are African Americans. They should have bailed on us eons ago. But they understood how important liberty was because they didn’t have it. It wasn’t just a word to them or an abstraction. It was something they wanted above all else. Nothing fancy — just the equal treatment before the law that the Constitution theoretically guarantees.
We kinda screwed the pooch right at the beginning. “All men are created equal” and slavery are mutually exclusive propositions. You can’t hold those two ideas in your head and not lose your mind. And look how hard we made it for women to vote. Where’s the “democratic” in that?
The truth is, we’ve always talked a better game about democracy than we’ve ever delivered. Good thing that’s fixable. First thing we need to do is shut up. That is, white men need to shut up. We need to step back from the controls and let others have a go at it. After they finish fixing the mess we made of it, who knows? America might finally live up to its own ideals.
If we followed the lead of African American women especially — they will have been the true saviors of American democracy — we might even get good at democracy eventually. That’s not guaranteed. But, if white men listen — if we let the genius of E Pluribus Unum (that’s what makes America exceptional — diversity, not white guys and their money) wash over us — we might could learn how to be better.