I’ve been troubled for some time about democracy; I just don’t think it means what it used to mean.
Democracy is supposed to be about hearing, considering, and respecting multiple voices, resulting in reasoned compromise that leads to the overall betterment of society. Not today, though. Today democracy seems like just another cudgel, grabbed by the powerful and used to force a modern despotism on a helpless electorate. It has become a tool of convenience; we parade its benefits when it suits our needs, and we do so in ways that subvert its truth. Demokratia, the rule of the people, is used by those who, wielding a bastardized definition, pretend that democracy is a power given to individuals rather than a loan given to representatives.
While I may be unsure of what the word means today, I do know one thing: the practice of democracy has gotten mean. In North Carolina, for example (a part of the country we should all be paying extremely close attention to), democracy no longer rides the rails at all. The state legislators down there seem to have adapted the modern definition and are busy horse-whipping the populace into submission. (If you don’t believe me, take a look at this video, in which the NC Lt. Governor tells the concerned gallery occupants that they can’t make either sound or gesture. This, he seemingly contends, is how democracy works on his watch.) Instead of representing their constituents, the current supermajority appears to have taken the electoral victory as an opportunity to remake the state in their own image rather than finding ways to compromise for the betterment of the state’s diverse population.
Such plays out all over the country. Fear and enmity have combined with Torquemadan tactics to create an environment that seems anything but democratic to me. Instead, democracy is what someone else decides it is; democracy is whatever the winners want it to be.
And our attitude has gone international. I’ve written previously about the Egyptian elections and how we seem to have conveniently forgotten that they were in fact just that: elections. Now there are those who laud what we used to deplore: the military ousting an elected head of state and then taking over the country.
In my day we called that a “coup.” But not today. A quick search for references to the events in Egypt reveals an abundance of counter-coup claims; apparently, use of the term would violate U.S. foreign policy and impact our ability to provide aid to Egypt. And since we sort of like the results (After all, they got rid of the Muslim Brotherhood!) we wouldn’t want to take that risk. So it’s not a coup, even though “leading voices in Washington contend that it is the security interest of the U.S. and the region to help loosen the grip the Muslim Brotherhood has over Egypt and assist in holding a new set of democratic elections.”
Apparently the last set of democratic elections didn’t provide the outcome we want.
And it’s all connected. It seems like no accident that, at the same time that we willfully turn a blind eye to democracy’s overthrow in Egypt, we are also using democracy’s bludgeon to legislate against the non-existent threat of Sharia law here at home. For proof, look no further than (once again) to our friends in North Carolina, who have chosen to join more than two dozen other states in wasting time on this “threat.”
Is this really what democracy is for? And, if not, how can it change?
Perhaps we should start with those few legislators who somehow still care, who try not to see only through a glass, darkly. Currently too many are playing the game the bludgeoners want them to play, catering to the lies and misinformation with counter-arguments that they know will only fall on deaf ears. Perhaps, instead, they should call out the hypocrisy. In North Carolina, for example, in the recent floor debates shown in this video, why is it that not one defiant legislator stood up to call out the bill supporters, to dare them to admit what they are really trying to do? Why do they only play the game of punch-counterpunch when the real issues of fear-mongering and theocracy are never addressed? Can you imagine what would happen if just one legislator bothered to stand up and speak the real truth, to ask just this one question: “Have you all gone fucking nuts?”
Let’s find those legislators, both at the state and federal levels. Let’s encourage them, give them cover, offer them reportage and support. Let’s urge them to stop struggling in an environment that ignores democracy; urge them instead to call out what’s really happening, and to force those who would suppress us by pretending to democracy admit instead what they’re really trying to do.
And what they’re trying to do is about the farthest thing from democracy I can imagine.