Attempting to define the word “democracy” beyond its most abstract sense often proves incredibly difficult. The mechanisms we humans have devised to try to enact democracy, like all our other creations, are subject to imperfections and errors, some more glaring than others. When this country realized that its initial governing document, the Articles of Confederation, were working so poorly that civil war seemed imminent, our founders reunited to write the Constitution in an effort to form, as is stated in its preamble, “a more perfect union.”
Like the Articles of Confederation, the Constitution is riddled with compromises that seemed necessary at the time, in order to get enough states to agree to the new foundational rules for this country. Although the divide between north and south would boil over less than a century later, it was still plenty strong in those early years, and even with the promise of amendments to help perfect the union even more, the Constitution just barely tampered down the flames of insurrection that were threatening to tear the country apart in the first years after the Revolutionary War.
No one can say that this country hasn’t been through a lot in the centuries that followed the ratification of the Constitution, but other countries have been through far worse, and have still managed to address the flaws of their governmental systems in a far more thorough way than we have. Perhaps the jingoistic way most of us learn American history leads to a belief that the system devised over two centuries ago — “Three cheers for checks and balances!” — simply can’t be improved upon, even as more and more evidence to the contrary piles up. Add to that the American propensity towards blindness to other countries (unless it’s to exploit them), and the largest gears of this country’s mechanisms have not only been unchanged for centuries, but they’re rusting so much that they’re in danger of falling apart in front of our eyes.
Much is made, as it should be, about how both of the most recent Republican presidents won their first terms despite their Democratic opponents getting more votes than they did. What doesn’t get talked about so much is the fact that in the past twenty-five years, Republicans have also, on two separate occasions, won a majority of seats in the House of Representatives despite Democratic candidates getting more votes, first in 1996 and again in 2012. In the leadup to last week’s midterm elections, some people talked of how Democrats, if they wanted to take back the House of Representatives, would need to win the raw vote total by several percentage points, but hardly anyone — and no Democrats I saw — even tried to make a big deal out of how fundamentally unfair this state of affairs is.
Although the raw vote totals are somewhat distorted by the fact that no Republicans advanced past the primary elections in California, leaving many residents of the state only able to vote for Democrats for the House and Senate, the message from this past Tuesday was clear as to what direction most Americans want this country to go in. Despite that, the people whose philosophies this country rejected still have a near-total stranglehold on power, and appear to be poised to continue wielding that power like a sledgehammer, destroying what little semblance of actual democracy remains in America so they can keep ruling over this country with an iron fist.
It would be one thing if conservatives’ ability to hold power despite getting a minority of votes were some freak accident of history, but it clearly isn’t. From the waves of gerrymandering that happened after the success of REDMAP, to endemic voter suppression that is now being perpetrated directly by the Republican candidates themselves (something that would have been a prima facie disqualifying factor mere years ago), the very fabric of representational democracy is quickly being rent asunder here in America, and for many Democrats, their only response has been to practically throw their hands up in the air as if to say, “What do you expect?” As the Republicans are rapidly evolving into the party of Orwell, Democrats continue becoming the party of “Oh well.”
For any political party in America to engage in this kind of chicanery would be bad enough on its own — and I do mean any political party, because this is an issue of democracy versus tyranny, not left versus right — but the tactics Republicans are using to lock in their power put many of us, who don’t fit their mold of what a “real” American is, in great harm. The fearmongering that goes on in this country every day, for every factor ranging from religion to skin colour, continues to get worse, and another one of my friends was just assaulted a couple of weeks ago by another of the roving hate mobs that gets conveniently ignored by media of all stripes. For many of us — and even if it were only one of us, that is still one too many — the question is not if we will become a target of hate attacks, but when. There is a real human consequence to the way conservatives are running amok with power in this country, and our “news” sources have repeatedly failed this country over the past two years by focusing on abstract political jiu-jitsu and other related piffle.
Some may point to the gains Democrats made this past week as evidence that things are getting “better,” but even if they are, the change we are about to see will be so incremental as to be mostly ineffective. More to the point, because Republicans suffered no losses in the Senate (and are likely to gain seats there once the last races are decided), the Trump Administration can continue to jam through judicial appointments like it has these past two years, and the judges that have been confirmed so far appear ready to act like a generational time bomb, with the potential to destroy and democratic reforms that local and state governments pass, particularly the kind of voting reforms necessary to undo all the dirty tricks perpetrated by Republicans over the last decade.
Whatever benefits America’s centuries-old governmental system may still have in this age, they were always predicated on the belief that everyone taking part in our country’s political theatre would act in good faith. Through all the gerrymandering, fearmongering, voter suppression and flat-out ratfucking that conservatives have engaged in — to say nothing of the half-truths and untruths of right-wing media — it is more than obvious they don’t give a damn about the rules, and will continue to bend or break them as they see fit, as long as doing so serves their goal of seizing the reins of power in this country. Unless the people who claim to oppose President Trump and his Republican toadies are willing to accept this fact, and act with all their power to reverse the destruction that’s already been wrought on our democratic systems, then the creeping right-wing tyranny that so many of us are already being terrorized by will surely fill that vacuum.