So, what’s it worth today?
Just how important is democracy to our republic? Remember the old saying about Love & marriage: you can’t have one without the other. Well, by definition, that should apply here: without political democracy, don’t expect a republic. But what’s the reality of our democracy, today? Does it really work? If so, for whom? The vote may express the will of the people, but does that make any difference— difference in the priorities of government, the direction of government or upon those we elect to govern? For a growing number, the answer seems to be, questionably, if you think about it.
The value of the vote is that it implies the option of preference. It expresses choice. It’s the primary means of voicing satisfaction or lack thereof with those currently holding the reins of governmental power. But when expressing choice produces less than expected results, what is its value? If you believe what a preponderance of Americans have been saying for years about our Country—that it’s headed in the wrong direction, on the wrong track— coupled with a depressingly low degree of confidence expressed in government, today our vote, our democracy, has little practical or effective influence on our republic. Why not?
The short answer is because of today’s politics, represented essentially by two increasingly antithetical ideological political parties which, when not directly holding the reins of government, seem willing for political advantage to do just about anything to prevent their nemesis from governing according to the majority vote. Both Parties do it. The result is, as we see, mainly stalemate.
The more complex, historical and truthful answer is we continue to suffer a politics primarily of class. For those who know their American history, our republican Constitution was set up to support a rather limited political democracy for male citizens of property and wealth. Only some thirty to forty years later was the franchise expanded to (male) citizens in general, and not without a push-back from those already enfranchised. This occurred as the industrial revolution was taking hold in America; a capitalistic industrial class was emerging. The desires of economic power (fictitious property) replaced landed wealth (real property) as the principal font of conservative political demand. How government leans in this connection has been the principle political struggle ever since. The question was, is and no doubt will continue to be, to what extent does or should government control capitalism—which today represents property & wealth—or capitalism government? You can decorate, camouflage or “spin” this issue anyway you want, and it has been over the years, but that doesn’t change it.
So, are the greater American democratic pawns screwed; doomed to vote to little or no effect while the extremes of political ideology feud over the role of government: should government control capitalism, or capitalism control the government, all with questionable permanent advantage gained by one side or the other? This is not improbable. But at the same time, it’s not a foregone conclusion. We may well be able to make our votes count for more than they apparently do today. We should at least try.
How? By recognizing that our present political parties have ceased to represent a plurality of voters; by acknowledging that while today America still has mainly two dominant political and social ideologies—liberal and conservative— it really has three political factions: Republicans, increasingly representing the more extreme conservatism; Democrats, increasingly representing progressive liberalism and Independents, increasingly composed of both conservatives and liberals (“leaners”) who appear turned-off by extremism. Increasingly political moderates aren’t welcome in the two parties. Where do these voters go, politically? Today, nowhere; today, they’re political orphans, electorally speaking. They have no option to express their political choice, other than for the parties they have apparently disavowed. Come election time, it’s to these two options (most) must look. And you wonder why the vote has depreciated? Today, it offers these party apostates, and possibly others, only a least-worst choice. That’s a sad state of democracy.
Political faction has been a dammed but enduring feature of our politics since founding. It’s unlikely to be repudiated anytime soon. The challenge, as Madison pointed out long ago, is to control it. As politics becomes increasingly ideological (and expensive!), this becomes increasingly difficult, because, as our electoral system favors just two parties, choice today is frozen in place: it’s either or. But voters increasingly rejecting the party option have only it to vote for. To control extremism, democratically, you must offer an alternative. As neither party seems so inclined, we need an Independent political option to consider. Writing elsewhere I’ve suggested the outlines of such an option consistent with our electoral system.
Conservatives (usually those having more) don’t really like political democracy, but recognize the need to manipulate it. Having lost their original political advantage of limiting the vote, today they are bent on controlling it to their advantage. Their motives are purely class motivated. Liberals (usually those having less), see democracy as the only way to achieve a more equitable society, at least in their eyes. Liberals today are intent on expanding social justice which (again) in their eyes means the wealthier among us should provide. Neither seems inclined toward moderation in this conflict.
Conservatives fret that liberal government will drive America (and them) into bankruptcy; will ruin the good they see in our country. Liberals decry the inequality they perceive around them, and insist that the better-off are not doing their share to relieve it. Chances are both protagonists here have sound arguments, but extremism on both sides inhibits a workable solution.
We need to make a change.
Thomas Richard Harry