Sunday, April 23, 2023

The Decay of Democracy

We hear a lot these days about democracy, as if the institution is threatened. Well, because it is.

I remember growing up in a conservative state, and people would say, "America is not a democracy, it's a republic" -- they're still saying that. Even as a kid I thought: so what? We don't vote on everything that happens, we elect leaders to do our will in the halls of government. It seemed more efficient and had the added benefit that it was not so vulnerable to media-generated fads such as the current uproar over transgender athletes, or erroneous beliefs about crime rates. Elect somebody, give them a few years to work on some legislation, their re-election depends on them keeping the people happy but they are relatively buffered from the whims of the crowd -- Brexit shows you the kind of thing you get when everybody votes on complicated policies.

Now I understand the deal. Conservatives see it differently from the rest of us. We think of electing representatives to serve us, and they think of electing dictators to tell us what to do. From the conservative point of view, once they're in office an official can do whatever crazy thing they want to. They want to close the libraries, okay -- that wouldn't pass a popular vote but some minor-league dictators can do it. A couple of them are squeamish about drag shows? The public doesn't really object to them but our little demagogues can pass laws to make drag shows illegal, even as the press turns up pictures of half of the Republican party cross-dressing. You want to turn down federal money for state health care systems? The people of the state sure wouldn't do that, but their elected dictators can do it. To make a statement.

Abortion? The people who live in this country realize that abortion is a necessary form of health care. Everybody knows somebody who has had an abortion, and has seen why they did it. It isn't Reaganesque "welfare queens," it's your sister, your wife, your mother. The people don't want to ban abortions but states that elected Republicans now have to live with the depravity of forced childbirth. I once saw a Republican Congressman try to describe late-term abortion in graphic terms, as if abortion is just murdering babies. In reality third-trimester abortions are very rare and when they happen it is because something is terribly wrong. Now, with abortion banned in many states, the Congressman's words come true. Women are forced to give birth to babies that should not have been carried to term, that are not viable, that die as soon as they are born, or before. It is disastrous for the family, for the woman, for all who loved them. It is pure sadism, cruelty with no point.

People don't want that.

People are fine with gay people marrying. They are fine with trans people using public bathrooms. They are fine with using the right pronouns. People are in favor of helping the poor, with getting people back on their feet to make their lives better. Nobody knows what to do about homelessness but the problem is not that they are unsightly and scary looking, the problem is finding them homes. People want to see the end of the opioid crisis and know that illegal immigrants are not responsible for it, so much as greedy pharmaceutical corporations.

Most people in the US would like to see some rational measures taken to decrease gun violence. A recent poll showed that 34% of Americans are satisfied with the country's gun laws. But look who gets their way. The majority? No, but thank you for asking.

There is a small minority of people in the country who feel sure they are right and the rest of us are wrong. They feel it is their duty, that it's a good and moral thing for them to do, to make the rest of us live by their perverse, life-annulling standards. This is why democracy was proposed in the first place, to prevent this sort of thing. The idea is that most people are smart enough to make good decisions, and a majority vote will at least get the people what they want. It is fine if these religious nuts have their bizarre beliefs, but it is not fine to engineer society so that everyone has to live by principles that are important to one small, irrational minority.

A hurtful handful of weirdos can manage to get control of the system. Gerrymandering and targeted voter suppression lead to biased elections and the appointment of judges and next thing you know the Supreme Court is sitting over there considering whether a regular FDA approval process of a drug might have missed something. For a medication has now been used millions of times with near-zero ill effects. It's not about the FDA, of course, or the safety of the mifepristone, it's about Christian conservatives imposing their bizarre interpretation of "God's will" (it's not even in the Bible) on the rest of us. A radical Christian judge in Texas said nobody in the United States can take this important medicine, and now the Supreme Court has issued a stay, meaning that the judge's ruling won't go into effect until it has met some legal challenges. The fight is not over, it is just "stayed." Some total raving nuts are making life miserable for millions of American families, against the will of the people, and they are not giving up.

This is why there is concern for democracy. There is a Constitution and a justice system in place, but these extremists have replaced fair and reasonable legislators and judges with religious radicals, so they can go through the charade of following the law while they force their unpopular religious views on the population.