One of the paradigms of democracy is the idealism that goes along with that institution, specifically that when everyone has the opportunity to vote it somehow translates to a freer society. We know this isn’t really the truth, which can be provided with evidence from Ukraine, Iraq under Saddam Hussein, and practically every other dictatorship that requires mandatory voting in which the choices are limited to either the dictator or specific party choices. Whenever we talk about those kinds of nations, we laugh at them and raise our hands in solidarity, voicing our opinion about how great our democracy is.
But is it?
I started thinking about this question the other day when one of the national politicos started talking about the inevitability of Hillary Clinton running for president. And I started thinking, why is it inevitable? And more importantly, why her? Why not the guy who lives down the street from me who waves to me every time I walk by, even though I think he’s kind of nuts? How about the cute girl that works at Starbucks? I’d vote for her. She really couldn’t do a worse job than anyone currently in government. And at least she gets most of the drink orders correct. That means she can take instructions from the guy standing at the register, create the correct drink and bring it to him without totally screwing it up. Most politicians fail at taking the order, and from there you go from ordering a carmel espresso and end up getting an F-35 that crashes because it goes so fast that its pilots pass out when flying the thing.
But back to democracy. Who decides what people are on the ballots? If you read the propaganda that gets put out, we do. But who are we? Most people don’t think about that, yet they will go and vote for one of the names of people they don’t really want. Very few, and I mean VERY few, choose someone that is not from one of the two main parties, even if they don’t who any of the people are from either one of those parties. Basically, most of our elections are decided by attack ads that cause cognitive dissonance about one candidate, or you might vote for someone because you saw more yard signs with that person’s name on it. Or you might recognize the name because the person has served in Congress for so many years that it’s impossible not to mention the name, even though you haven’t heard a single thing about what that person has ever done in the 40 years he or she has been in office. Yet, you’ll vote for him or her because, well, they’re on our team, or some bizarre reason makes you think that somehow this person who has always had the job will somehow change things for the better, even though he or she has never tried doing that in the past.
It’s enough to drive one batty.
The problem with elections is that they serve people who have strong name recognition, which in most cases means someone who already has political clout or a lot of money and economic connections. That means that most of us are unimportant and insignificant. Seriously, we’re insignificant and basically unwanted by those who are in power because talking to us is a waste of time when there are so many important people with power and money they could be talking to.
Part of the problem is that our country is so big that in order to have any influence, you already have to be part of the power structure to even be heard by anyone who might make a difference. Yet, we’re also in a country where more and more people are graduating from college and universities, which means there are more and more people who have the brains and intelligence to possibly change the world for the better but are compartmentalized by those in power instead. So, the only places they have to make a name for themselves are in business or the arts, which for the most part means an alternative route to a place that politicians ignore or condemn as unimportant again.
The real problem isn’t just that so many people have so little voice in government. Well, actually that is the problem, and as in most iterative scenarios, if you crunch those numbers, you end up with a lot of people growing more and more dissatisfied with government, which means people start protesting, and when those protesters are marginalized, like the Occupy Wall Street protests were, people start to look for other avenues to participate in political empowerment, which if you follow the logic, means that it may lead to very dangerous outcomes, because once people give up on the given institutions and look for their own places to have their voices heard, pretty much anything can happen. That’s basically the menu that led to the French Revolution and practically every other overthrow of a social institution in the 20th century. With this much anger festering, I can imagine that when things do happen, those with money and power aren’t going to be the royals trying to find a new position in the new paradigm, but possibly the victims of such anger.
We’re already starting to see this sort of thing in race relations. Sure, we like to pretend that those are just circumstances that got out of control, that everything is really fine, but in reality when you have powder kegs all across the country, and world, ready to explode at the first ignition of trouble, it shouldn’t be all that surprising when you see that sort of thing happening on a regular basis. Which then leads to people in larger cities feeling completely unsafe in their cities because whenever these things happen, the police are completely taken by surprise and overwhelmed. People power has a tendency to do that. But when people no longer trust their government to be the instrument that keeps things safe, they start looking to protect themselves, which makes the next powder keg that much more of a demonstrative explosion.
The real problem (think I’ve said that a few times now) is that people keep thinking that “it can’t happen here” which is usually the last cry you hear before something happens and then you hear “I never thought that could happen here”. Our institutions are being stretched to the limit, and while the solution would have been to stop educating people so they wouldn’t realize they were being marginalized and disenfranchised (and believe it or not, you can vote and still be disenfranchised), but we’re way beyond that, and no one these days could ever justify the idea of saving the state by not educating people, unless you’re Stalin, or a politician in Iran.
But then, no one really cares. There are too many interesting things on television to pay attention to this sort of thing.