Friday, November 09, 2018

Democracy is More Like a River than a Rock

There is currently a Republican body of discourse, and it is nonsense. Desperate refugees are described as dangerous terrorists; video is altered to weaken journalists' ability to monitor authorities; election fraud is charged where voter suppression policies failed to protect unpopular candidates; abortion is described as, simply, bad and immoral, though more than a quarter of American women have found a need for it; as a matter of faith there need to be more guns out there; Christians need more religious freedom and other religions need to be eradicated; transgender people cost too much; they say Democrats are pro-crime, pro-terrorism, and want "open borders," whatever that is; fair access to healthcare as practiced in other civilized countries is called "socialism" and blocked; these people will tell you that climate change is a hoax by the Chinese intended to make us less competitive; "tax reform" means lower taxes for the rich; black people deserve to be killed by the cops-- well I could go on. You've heard it. All of this is nonsense. It is not intended to make sense but only to push emotional buttons.

On the Democratic side there is not universal agreement on much of anything. There are discussions about how we should deal with refugees and other immigrants who want to enter the United States to live or work -- what plans can we establish and manage, how do we select who will qualify, how will we deal with those who violate regulations, and how can we define citizenship in a way that is fair and good for the country? There is discussion about the best ways to ensure that all citizens get to vote and that their vote is counted -- should we use paper ballots and count by hand or can we make automation secure, can we make sure voting locations are accessible and available to poor people as well as rich ones, and are there better alternatives to our current voting methods? Is journalism in a free country a competitive business where reporters should censor their questions in order to maintain access to publicly elected authorities or is it an institution that should be protected, and that forces authorities to answer questions and explain themselves? To what extent does the right to free speech mean that an organization is obligated to provide a platform for hate, and what is the best way for private citizens to respond to fascism, sexism, racism, and other forms of bigotry? How can we best provide women with the specific healthcare needs they have, including cancer screening, contraception, and abortion? Should the government regulate gender, romance, and family practices, and if so, why and to what extent? These are real questions where it is difficult to find answers that suit the society as a whole while meeting the needs of individuals in particular circumstances. But through open discussion and a full accounting of the facts, it is presumed that equitable outcomes can be reached.

In other words, we have one party that is talking nonsense and propaganda, doing what it can to instill fear and control voters, and we have another party that is divided between what are called "moderates" and "progressives," and is debating -- at times heatedly -- the best ways to provide security and prosperity to the nation.

To be fair, the Republican party does have a mission and a goal, and that is to further enrich and empower those who are already advantaged. The political goal is the installation of the super-rich in positions where they can influence the domestic economy and world markets in ways that will increase their profits even more. In a democracy this means cultivating a population of voters who are innumerate, functionally illiterate, and do not trust or follow the news except as it is served through particular plutocratic propaganda media outlets.

I am in an optimistic mood at the moment, and am willing to hope and to speculate that the oligarchs will be voted out after the current experiment, and that public debate will come to focus on the real issues that presently occupy moderate and progressive liberal thought. If there are two parties, then let one take the moderate, more conservative position (just as the Republicans are suddenly big defenders of pre-existing conditions), and let the other take the more progressive position on issues, and let's haggle out solutions from there.

When you talk to real people in the modern world, you find their opinions almost always fall somewhere between moderately and progressively liberal. Nobody at all wants to give up their house and possessions to pay their medical bills when they get sick, or wants other people to; there is almost nobody who really thinks mass murder is a fine and normal part of daily life and that the problem is that there are not enough guns on the street, or actually thinks that schoolteachers should be armed in the classroom (or rabbis in the synagogue); there is almost nobody who really thinks that only white people should be able to vote; all our hearts go out to starving children in our country and in foreign lands and we would like to help them; nobody actually believes that elected authorities should be able to do any self-serving thing with our tax dollars in secret, and without being accountable. Everybody realizes that war is hell and would do all they can to prevent it. And so on. American people are pretty sensible. They are inherently kind and caring, and do not mean to do anyone harm without justification. There are some nuts out there, but mostly those have, let's say, mixed motives.

It is possible that the US will go over the brink and follow the way of our currently governing party, and that critical thinking will simply vanish, especially if we let journalism and education die. It has happened in the past -- remember the Dark Ages? -- and there is no law of nature that says it can't happen again. Democracy is a difficult path to take, it includes a fundamental requirement that every person needs to respect every other person and make concessions to maximize everyone's freedom. This is hard, and there are people who are unwilling to do it. Democracy is a kind of steady-state dynamic system that requires constant adjustment, constant vigilance, maintenance; it is not a static thing that you put in place and it persists. It is more like a river than a rock. Our democracy will always need to make adjustments to 1.allow innovation and the introduction of new processes, personalities, and ideas and 2.prevent selfish actors from taking advantage of the need for consensus. We gotta keep our eyes open.

This week's election resulted in a strong push by the people to return to a sensible system of government. The President and his party have done lasting damage, they have plundered the treasury and undermined the budget, they have undercut civil rights, destabilized relationships around the world, and energized the darkest forces of our own society. And they are not going to release control voluntarily, that much is clear; for one thing, criminal prosecutions are a real probability once they lose power. The most powerful authoritarians in the US are not going to bend to the will of the people without a fight. So it is up to us, the people, to stand up and fight for ourselves and our democracy.