Somewhere between tyranny and mob rule lies a thin, still-to-be-investigated layer known as democracy. Not what we have. What we have is a style of democracy, bearing the same lack of resemblance to the real thing that other products marketed as style bear to the real product.
Democracy-style defenders point to the efficiency of our representative system of governing. It’s said that the will of the people is expressed through the peoples’ representatives.
But you don’t need an arbitrary number of representatives for this. Hitler claimed that he, and he alone, was the embodiment of the will of the German people. It’s all so much pretense, a little here, a lot there.
Easily the first and simplest test of a true democracy is that the person receiving the most votes for president should be the president. One person, one vote. No matter where you live.
What would have happened in our new century if we had voted that way? For one thing, George W. Bush couldn’t have been elected for a second term because he wouldn’t have been elected for a first term. And Donald Trump couldn’t have had his second term “stolen” because he wouldn’t have had a first.
This is a good reason why Republicans prefer the complexity of the Electoral College and its districting to a straight popular vote, but why do Democrats prefer it? There’s no push there to change the system.
In speaking of the Bush and Trump election anomalies, we can’t be certain how the elections would have turned out under a popular vote system because that system was not in place. This can be admitted while making an educated guess.
Why did we ever take voting rights away from convicted felons? Is it a deterrent? Do people think twice about committing felonies because they might lose the privilege? Or is it because criminality (as judged by authority) puts you on the wrong side of the authority that governs you, making you subversive of the system?
We have to go back a century to see how voting, criminality, and democracy came together once before. In 1920, Eugene Debs, as Convict No. 9653 in the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary, received almost one million votes for president. He was serving a ten-year term, convicted of violating the Espionage Act of 1917 because his antiwar speech obstructed military enrollment in World War 1.
His criminality is sealed by his own words: “I know of no reason why the workers should fight for what the capitalists own, or slaughter one another for countries that belong to their masters.”
And, “…the working class who fight all the battles, the working class who make the supreme sacrifices, the working class who freely shed their blood and furnish the corpses, have never yet had a voice in either declaring war or making peace. It is the ruling class that invariably does both. They alone declare war and they alone make peace.”
It’s still a crime to obstruct a war because it infringes upon the rights of the ruling class to wage them. That’s what the Espionage Act is all about. That’s what put Debs behind bars while his jailers remained free. And that’s what kept Debs from adding one more vote — his own for himself — to the nearly one million he received as a political prisoner of the United States.
Real democracy poses a problem for rulers. By placing decision making in the hands of all citizens, it dilutes the power from above. Our country’s founders were well aware of this and constructed a politics that would not be infected by majority rule. They couldn’t have been more clear about their intentions.
And yet, here we are, the pretense of full democracy still alive and well, the topic of essay after essay. What happened to our democracy? Where did it go?
It went on a mission. People in foreign lands have heard it as it whistles through the night air. They have smelled its fire and smoke after its work is done. It’s still very much in earnest.
If all this reads with ironic tone, let’s call it what it is. A fascism in training.
James Rothenberg, of North Chatham, writes on U.S. social and foreign policy.