Democracy Is “Use It Or Lose It”

Winston Churchill famously said “democracy is the worst form of government – except for all the others that have been tried”. He said that after being voted out of office at the end of World War Two. Despite his cynicism (born of losing an election), he was right. Democracy is damned hard to pull off. We fancy ourselves democracy’s chief salespeople yet we absolutely suck at “doing” democracy ourselves! A huge chunk of us never vote! Voting is the whole point of living in a democracy! Another huge chunk would prefer to have a king – and that’s how they vote. It’s the rest of us – good citizens (regardless of political party) who see voting not just as a right but as a duty: an obligation that comes hard-wired to freedom. Our problem: opposing us is a flawed, adolescent male mindset that thinks freedom “you’re not the boss of me” is “freedom”.

Facts is facts. Democracy is a chaotic mess by nature. It can never be as neat and tidy as, say, fascism. For two hundred years, America’s conservatives got by on the fact that white, Christian, land-owning men wrote America’s foundational documents and wrote them not equally or fairly but so as to benefit themselves at everyone else’s expense. They all agreed “all men are created equal” so long as they were only talking about men – and about men exactly like themselves – rich, white, Christian land owners. But a few understood that America’s true greatness lay elsewhere. James Madison insisted that our national motto be “E Pluribus Unum” – out of many, one. IOW diversity.

Diversity is both America’s strength and its Achilles’ heel. Our diversity makes us dynamic. It’s our secret sauce. But, being diverse, it’s harder to organize. We can’t find common purpose in our whiteness. Instead, diverse Americans have to band together because we want similar futures for our kids where every single one of them gets the chance to be all they can be – to be who they are – and to be as happy and productive as possible.

Virtually every other nation on earth – prior to America’s birth – was the product of hundreds if not thousands of years of regional tribes slowly coalescing into nations like Germany, France or England. America’s regional tribes got wiped out by European pathogens (not European ideas or might). That left a lot of empty real estate that the Europeans assumed was their “Manifest Destiny”.

The driving force behind all non-native presence in the Americas is money. No one came here looking for religious freedom (not even the Pilgrims who sought and found religious freedom in Holland before heading to Massachusetts). Pretty much everyone (the Pilgrims included) came here looking to make a buck. Nothing wrong with that so long as we’re all honest about it.

Democracy is the best way (Churchill would agree) to truly level the playing field so that as many stakeholders as possible get a chance to succeed, be productive and find happiness. But, nothing about it is a given. Not the way our democracy currently works. As much as we want to believe America’s founders got it absolutely right, they absolutely didn’t. They knew their founding documents would need updating and so they built in methods for doing exactly that – originalism be damned. Alas, the rich, white, Christian land owning founders also built in ways for white corruption (in the form of slavery) to continue, too.

To the conservatives’ credit, they grasped immediately that democracy is a kind of “contact sport”. If winning the majority of voters wins an election then playing to those voters becomes the point. Knowing what they want or guiding what they want will guarantee success – especially the latter. Conservatives always have clear goals that are easily articulated. In fact, what any conservative wants is right in their name: conservatives want to conserve. The only question is only ever “what does any conservative want to conserve?”

Jews not replacing them?

As the future hasn’t happened yet, you can’t conserve it. It’s the last thing on earth conservatives want anyway – the future. That’s what progressives focus on – getting to the future as quickly as possible because the future is where progress will happen. In America, the conservative ideal looks like the 1950’s but feels like the 1850’s. That’s the conservative vision for America – a long-past-its-sell-by-date smorgasbord of the past where women and people of color have zero rights and the rest of us scrape by on slave wages.

Keeping in mind the anti-abortion movement’s cynical beginnings, conservatism really is the dog who caught the car, jumped behind the wheel, and now finds itself speeding toward a cliff with no idea how to drive. The rest of America is a passenger strapped into the back seat who must now unstrap themselves and dive into the front seat, hoping to gain control of the car before we all die. Conservatism hitched its wagon to Trumpism knowing it was corrupt and treasonous. The GOP knew even before they nominated Trump in 2016 that Vladimir Putin owned him and that a “President Trump”, at the very least, posed a grave national security threat.

We have lived in treason’s shadow ever since.

The American right wing realized a long time ago that an informed electorate was dangerous to them – especially if that electorate was diverse. They went to war on the rest of us (Thanks, Newt Gingrich!). They correctly realized that if you control local politics, you can control national politics to a surprisingly large degree. By using fear to motivate their voters, the right wing demonstrated not that the majority of Americans want what they want, but that enough of the voters who turned out to vote wanted what they want and voted for them. America would so benefit from having a law like Australia’s where no one is forced to actually vote but everyone is forced to show up at their polling place regardless. You have to participate. How you participate is up to you. But you have to show “willing”.

Freedom can’t be entirely free except in the minds of irresponsible little boys.

The solution to our problem is so easy and all we have to do is teach our children what makes America so remarkable. Civics classes shouldn’t be dull recitations of rules, they should be a celebration of American Exceptionalism. We should proudly proclaim our promise to ourselves to get the very best out of each of us – for our individual benefit but, more importantly, for our collective benefit.

Democracy isn’t “the worst” because of its results, it’s the worst because of its demands on its participants. To the Republican Party’s credit, they understand that democracy is a contact sport at the retail level. It really is about getting out the vote – or stopping it from participating at all.

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