It is no secret that many of us feel we are facing extreme division in this country. Some believe we (Americans) are truly homogenous and our politicians, media, celebrities, and others are behind the efforts to draw moral/ethical, racial, and class distinctions between us for a variety of ends. Others likely hold the view that our country has many deep seeded issues (racial, economic, etc.) that are simply rising to the surface after decades – and even centuries – of attempts to throw the proverbial blanket over them, and what we are seeing currently (protests, political rhetoric, etc.) is nothing more than an inevitable eruption. Any way one views the notion of division in this country, tensions are undoubtedly high in the real and cyber worlds of the United States. The issue then becomes, for the purposes of this Democratic Erosion course, how this affects and reflects the quality of democracy in this country (assuming one considers this a democratic entity).
The Indivisible Memphis rally against the Graham-Cassidy healthcare repeal bill becomes the backdrop for this discussion. This was one of the many Indivisible rallies that took place on Monday, September 25th to help prevent the bill from passing, or even reaching the floor (which it did not). Indivisible is a nation-wide coalition dedicated to “working together to resist the racist, authoritarian, and corrupt Trump agenda”. This blog post will briefly discuss the highlights of the rally. It will also shine light on both the positive and negative ways the rally related to democratic erosion.
This rally had a litany of groups backing the cause, including Planned Parenthood Greater Memphis Region, ACLU People Power Memphis – Downtown, the Tennessee Democratic Party, and area-wide Democratic clubs (among many other groups). Channel 3 News – a local news channel – was in attendance and videoing the event (I am unsure if it was live or recorded), which likely gave it an extra boost of enthusiasm. Speakers at the rally included the leader of Indivisible Memphis, a representative from Planned Parenthood Greater Memphis Region, the Chairman of the Shelby County (the county Memphis is in) Democratic Party, a doctor from Professionals for a National Health Program, West TN Chapter, and two people sharing personal stories. Among the crowd were many clearly sympathetic to the cause. There were many signs being held by the attendees, which read statements such as “Kill the Bill”, “Medicare for All”, and “I Stand with Planned Parenthood”. It was a very peaceful and relatively short demonstration (roughly thirty minutes) that seemed to get their point across regarding disdain for the repeal effort.
The most obvious way the rally related to democratic erosion was clearly positive. The people of this country – or at least some – assembled to take part in the process of legislation (in this case disapproval). This particular aspect can absolutely be conceived of as a reflection of a healthy democracy. Another fundamentally positive aspect of the rally may not be the best sign of a fit democracy, though. Those partaking in the rally truly do not believe their voice is being heard, and the bill reflects the interests of only a certain group of individuals. If any group in a democracy feels they are not being taken into account on a given issue – especially one as important as healthcare – that pertains to the entirety of the country, it is necessary they speak up to have their voice heard. If this becomes a constant issue (i.e., not taking everyone into account), it does not display the ideals democracy is supposed to stand for. It is important to point out that the argument in this section can be flipped by positing the rally as a potential opponent to democracy. The antagonists of this rally (i.e., those trying to pass the bill) are officials elected by the citizens of Tennessee. What place do the people that voted for these officials have in the “Kill the Bill” rally, and the Indivisible movement in general? Doesn’t their will matter as well? Of course everyone can’t, and probably shouldn’t agree on everything, but this is definitely worth taking into account.
Indivisible believes the Senate Republicans were trying to sneak this bill past without anyone noticing or gaining the Democratic Party’s support. We have seen in our readings the danger that can come from governments, or Presidents to be more specific, making incremental or sweeping changes to constitutions. It is highly unlikely that the repeal effort against Obamacare would qualify, especially in a country with strong separation of powers like the United States. If anything, the repeal effort is moving healthcare closer to its previous state (i.e., before Obamacare). One could make the argument that the initiation of Obamacare was more in line with the aforementioned change of laws. Also, with a media that is rather critical of President Trump, it is hard to imagine much slipping past them.
It seems like a fair assessment to say that excessive power concentrated in government has the potential to contribute to democratic erosion. We have seen this with regard to our readings on populism worldwide and authoritarianism in Latin America. What we may need to be asking ourselves (and this is absolutely tied to the rally) is what we want the role of our government to be. If one truly believes the government should be in charge of healthcare for the entirety of the country and is capable of handling this, fine. However, those that believe the government should not be involved in healthcare on a mass scale and are of the opinion that the government often makes a mess of what they get their hands on should be respected too.
There was a conflict of interests during the rally that relates to what was just written. It was thrown out during the rally that some of the audience’s elected representatives (implying Republicans) do not care about them. However, it was also said that the government can get things right (healthcare was implied). Obamacare is a government run program. How is it that a government composed of certain representatives that are uncaring about its citizens’ well-being effectively handle healthcare on a nationwide scale? One could argue that those representatives do not actually dictate how healthcare is literally carried out in the United States, and this would be a fair point. However, if the person at the top of the governmental totem pole (i.e., President Trump) is implementing a “racist, authoritarian, and corrupt” agenda, how can one honestly expect the government to provide caring, cost-effective, and legitimate healthcare? This simply seems like a breakdown in logic. If you do not believe your representatives from the Republican Party care about you, fine. However, the fact that one can believe another entire party (i.e., the Democratic Party) cares about everyone – and vice versa – seems a bit odd.
I am of the belief that the process of democratic erosion begins shortly after democracy’s conception. It seems incredibly difficult for the people of a democracy to keep up their vibrancy and vigilance. If democratic polities were bulletproof, we would not be writing these posts or be taking this class. The people are engaging in dialogue and making their stances on issues known, and this is wonderful. Although, whether or not one side is hearing or entertaining the other is a different story. Opinions on both sides that are thought out and not laced with vulgarity need to be respected. If they are not, the likelihood of progress and/or democratic maintenance appears grim.