The giant, soul-sucking irony that’s haunted America since it became democracy’s Fuller Brush Man is how terrible we are at practicing the democracy we’re selling. In our defense, we dropped from the womb a great idea poorly executed. Just because this country’s founders founded a great nation doesn’t make them infallible. As “All men are created equal” proves, America’s founding fathers did not believe for two seconds that “all men are created equal” and by “all men”, they meant ALL MEN and only men. As I said — a great idea, poorly executed. In defense of the men who founded our government (if not necessarily our country), they did build in mechanisms for change. They recognized that democracy, by its nature, is dynamic. In time, that very dynamism expanded America’s idea of which “men are created equal”; then, finally, we understood “all men” to mean “every single damned one of us, women included”.
It only took us 134 years to apply democracy to more than half the population.
My dad (a surgeon) used to wish that the whole world was ruled by a benevolent dictator — and he’d be that benevolent dictator. He was a healer by nature so, of course, he could imagine a dictatorship that way. But, my dad was responding to how challenging it can be to live in a democratic republic. Winston Churchill agreed. “Democracy is the worst form of government except for all others” is how he put it. The very real problem with democracy is its core strength: its fungibility. Whatever the will of the people is, that’s where democracy will go. Well, that’s the theory anyway.
In a sense, the other real problem with democracy is that it’s a contact sport. That’s only a problem if you don’t know it’s a contact sport. It is a problem because too few Americans either don’t know that democracy’s a contact sport or don’t care. At least, that was how it’s been up till recent times. Ever since Andrew Johnson ended Reconstruction before it even really began, Black voter suppression has been an accepted political tactic here in America. No one can honestly say they didn’t know it was happening. That is, white people — with all of their rights intact including their right to vote — can’t say that they didn’t know that their fellow Black citizens were being deprived of their rights, especially their right to vote.
That’s 245 years (we’re still doing it today!) of white people knowing Black people (and brown people too) were being openly discouraged to vote. That is not how democracy works.
Let’s be brutally honest with ourselves, America — white people are the greatest hinderance to democracy in America. No other group thinks suppressing votes is kosher. No other group does it. Black people don’t do it to white people. Brown people don’t do it to white people. Asian people don’t do it to white people. Only white people do it — to others. My point: the root cause of anti-democratic behavior in America is RACISM. Pure and simple.
The Republican Party took to Trump because he was the logical end point of all their corruption. The Republican Party, for all its rhetoric, has evolved organically into the White Peoples’ Party. They are “the party of Lincoln” in name only (I refer you to Heather Cox Richardson’s brilliant “To Make Men Free: A History Of The Republican Party”). Think of them like a Four Seasons Hotel property that got taken over by slumlords. Just because it says “Four Seasons” outside doesn’t make a Four Seasons inside. It matters who owns the joint.
Hopefully, historians will be able to pinpoint a moment where the right wing money — the Koch Brothers in particular — saw the demographic handwriting on the wall. White hegemony was going to succumb to a rapidly diversifying American population much more rapidly than expected. A very real decision got made to do something about that. Ideas were formulated. Significant monies were spent for a very specific purpose: to extend minority white power as far into the future as possible,. Better yet, convert this minority power into permanent white minority rule. The one big obstacle: American democracy.
The RW money understands the world — at least America — in realpolitik terms. They have no ideology other than money and power. Whatever it takes to get and keep those two things, they will do. There are no messy emotions about it. No rules or laws to worry over — those can be steamrolled easily because white people are white people. Quick side note: To white people in America, only about a third of Americans truly qualify as “white people”. The rest of us — from whatever corner of Europe or the rest of the world we came from — we could only ever be “white adjacent” at best, “the other” at worst. And, to white people, being “the other” means you don’t deserve shit. That includes the right to vote. Back to business: the RW money, understanding America in their way, saw that the executive branch — even with the Electoral College’s perversely tilted playing field perversely tilted toward them — was gone. If not for “Bush v Gore” and overt, treasonous cheating, neither George W. Bush nor Donald Trump would have been president. Joe Biden beat Trump by more than seven million popular votes. Personally, I’d stick a pin in Trump’s vote tally. I want a full and thorough investigation into the ES&S and Diebold companies and their electronic voting machines BEFORE signing off on anything about election 2016.
The RW money knew the presidency was gone. They couldn’t ever count on the House of Representatives because of the two year churn. The House, by its nature, is mercurial and — in a Big Picture sense — unpredictable and impossible to control. The Senate, on the other hand — that, the RW money believed, could be made permanently Republican. Conservatives had already tilted the Senate far, far away from democracy by over-representing white, rural conservatives and under-representing diverse urbanites. Not especially democratic, that. Why do you suppose there are two Dakotas — cos there were too many Dakotans for one? Why do you think there are so many minimally populated western states (Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, Montana) that all share the same political outlook? It’s the same reason Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands and Washington, DC aren’t states.
The Georgia special election that put Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff in the Senate shocked the living crap out of the Republican Party. It should have been a wake up call; ironically, it was — just in the wrong direction. The Republicans didn’t like more Georgians turning out to vote. That’s why the first thing they did in response was to make that impossible. The Right Wing money’s gamble on the Senate may yet come a crapper.
The weapon the RW money planned to wield to get them past democracy to permanent minority rule was the judiciary. The RW money turned its lonely eyes to Mitch McConnell. To their credit, they couldn’t have chosen a better, more corrupt servant to do their anti-democratic bidding. Mitch denied Obama 128 lifetime federal bench appointments — the very same appointments Mitch then moved heaven and earth to fill with vile, racist, corrupt judges chosen by the Heritage Foundation. Chosen by the Kochs.
Mitch denied Merrick Garland so much as a hearing then slammed Amy Barrett down our throats with mere hours to go before Trump’s term ended.
Get the feeling America sucks at democracy?
The thing is, we don’t have to suck at it. There are Americans who understand how our democracy is supposed to work. Black women have suffered more at the hands of America’s bullshit version of democracy than any other group. And yet, as a group, they’ve maintained both a love for American ideals and a loyalty to what American democracy could be. We get to experience the flower of that love and loyalty every time a dynamic political force of nature like Stacey Abrams speaks. Or Maxine Waters. Or Kamala Harris. Black women have been the true keepers of American democracy’s flame. Their devotion has spread. It undergirds the very wokeness the American voting public feels and is feeling right now. And, indeed, more Americans are committed to what America should be than ever before.
More Americans are willing to engage in the contact sport that is American democracy.
But, as I said, this “thing of ours”, our democracy, it’s flawed because the men who wrote it up were flawed and we haven’t had time yet to fix all the flaws. Racism has built countless fail safes into the system — designed impediments to actual democracy. California is about to face one as we vote to recall Governor Gavin Newsome because Republicans are desperate to turn very blue California back into the very red California it used to be. Before it diversified so successfully. Hey — another side note — California’s diversity is key to its being the 6th largest economy in the world. The systemic flaws are what sustain systemic racism to to this day.
It will take a concerted, fully focused offense to overcome what Republicans are doing — last gasp Hail Mary that it is. Even as the GOP pushes America toward a Germanic, fascist authoritarianism (ironically, Hitler based his fascist vision on American racism), it faces an obstacle Hitler didn’t. In fact, the American right faces something no other authoritarian wannabe has had to deal with: DIVERSITY.
Though there were plenty of “good Germans” — the Nazi Party represented a minority of Germans — something in the German national character (and there is one — it’s the product of a thousand years of the various Germanic tribes fusing into “Germany”) wants to follow the rules even if they don’t like them. By the same token, the French Vichy government that ran France with Germany’s approval was no anomaly. French loyalties have flipped and flopped for a thousand years depending on which side was winning the war coming at them. The Swiss have always been icily neutral toward the rest of Europe.
Stalin could murder millions of Russians with impunity because mass murder by the political leadership was a longstanding tradition in Russia.
Here in America though, no one except Native Americans have any kind of extended history. We’re all recent arrivals relatively speaking. All those people arriving from all those different places have no history whatsoever with marching in lockstep with each other. Most of them? They couldn’t march in lockstep with people back home. People marching in lock step is why most of those people left home and came to America. It will be far, far harder to get a diverse American population to go along with minority rule authoritarianism than anyone imagines.
That is precisely why the right wing fights so hard to destroy any semblance of democracy.
Even if the right got every last bit of its current wet dream and every anti-democratic voting law stood, in time — and not much time — Americans would rise up and refuse to go along with this fascist bullshit. Let’s hope we don’t go down that road; we don’t have to.
We need to show up and vote, for one thing. Which we’ll do. But, we also need our elected leaders to stand up for democracy itself. To get themselves bloodied if that’s what it takes.
Because democracy is a contact sport.