He takes the stage with a youthful exuberance. By the age of 36, he has already served in the United States military, as a state representative of Missouri, as the Secretary of State of Missouri, and created his own campaign against voter suppression laws. His name is Jason Kander and he embodies the values of a loyal opposition.
As he speaks to the crowd at an Ohio House Democratic Caucus fundraiser, Jason Kander returns to a familiar message: voting rights. After losing one of the closest Senate races in Missouri history, Kander has created his non-profit, Let America Vote, in a campaign against voting rights discrimination. After a time in elected office, Kander has taken a step back in order to run Let America Vote as well as his podcast “Majority 54” in which he attempts to bridge the gap between the 54% who voted against Donald Trump and those who did.
Kander’s ability to bridge gaps is a big reason he became secretary of state of Missouri at just 31 years old. In a majority Republican state, Kander’s strategy in campaigning was to simply stay true to what he told voters. He took the approach that a candidate is who he is and will believe what he will believe but as long as the candidate stays honest and true, voters will accept him even if they disagree with his politics. Nothing demonstrates this mindset more than Kander’s viral ad in support of background checks. Here, Kander clearly articulates his position but explains his reasoning while at the same time demonstrating his expertise about gun safety. Between his role as secretary of state, leader of Let America Vote, as well as the voice of “Majority 54”, Kander exemplifies the ideal individual in a loyal opposition
In their work, The Breakdown of Democratic Regimes, Juan Linz and Alfred Stepan identify the three different forms of opposition: loyal, semi-loyal, and disloyal. A disloyal opposition can be identified by a rejection of political systems based on the existence of the authority of the state. In this sense, a disloyal opposition is similar to a secessionist or anarchist movement that seeks to completely transform a specific political system. Similarly, a semi-loyal opposition is an opposition group that engages with a disloyal group even if they do not push an anarchist or secessionist movement.
Alternatively, a loyal opposition can be characterized by a readiness to unconditionally surrender power, a rejection of violence, a rejection of a rhetoric of violence, a willingness to join opponents for the survival of democracy, and a rejection of contacts with disloyal opposition among other attributes. This loyal opposition is easily compared to the current Democratic Party.
Based on the features of the disloyal, semi-loyal, and loyal oppositions, the United States is not under threat from any domestic disloyal oppositions. While some organizations such as Amnesty International suggest that divisive rhetoric is a danger to society, the presence of loyal oppositions counteracts this threat. As long as the opposition party remains committed to the survival of American democracy, no amount of rhetoric will endanger the United States.
Jason Kander and other Democrats have demonstrated time and again their pledge to the American democratic system. Even as Trump denigrates the dreamers, the Democratic party have opted to take the loyal path in responding to Trump. Instead of calling for a military coup or questioning the validity of the presidential office, democratic leaders recognize the President’s legitimacy as well as their own ability to counter him in legal democratic forums.
With the government shutdown as the most recent example, Democrats relied on a legal method available to them in order to force a negotiation about DACA. The important thing is that instead of the Democrats denouncing Trump’s presidency as a fraud and calling for new elections, they chose to use the government shutdown as a bargaining chip in order to preserve democratic legitimacy. Whether or not the government shutdown had any value does not matter in this case. The only factor that matters in measuring the loyalty of the Democratic party, in this case, is that they behaved according to the standards of a loyal opposition as described by Linz and Stepan.
The government shutdown exemplifies how a body as a whole should operate as a loyal opposition and Jason Kander fits into this guideline by demonstrating what individual candidates should do when faced with defeat. Especially considering that the elections in the United States remain free and uncontested, Kander rightfully relinquished power to his opponent. But he also noticed a problem with voting rights in America and decided to create a solution. Now, instead of denying the legitimacy of an election in order to seize power, Kander is campaigning across the country in an attempt to expand voting rights for all citizens in order to strengthen the American democracy.
Based upon the feuds between the Republican party and the Democratic party, the American democracy is not in danger. Divisive rhetoric and a refusal to cooperate will slow the democratic process and frustrate constituents from across the nation. Yet, no matter how dysfunctional the United States government might appear, it still operates as a functioning democracy. Buoyed by a loyal opposition from the Democrats and individuals such as Jason Kander, common citizens should not fear a threat of insurrection from the opposition. Politicians in the United States are committed to preserving the democratic process regardless of their partisan preference.
“*Photo by DonkeyHotey, “Republican Elephant & Democratic Donkey – 3D Icons” (Flickr), Creative Commons Zero license.”
Robert dahl defines a democracy as a government that can include pluralistic norms, specifically a government that is able to represent a vast majority of citizens. While Linz and Stepan outline a definition that allows the United States to be excluded from the possibility of democratic erosion, it is important to consider other definitions. In the 2016 elections, our alleged democratic process allowed for the 48% votes casted for Hilary Clinton to be overshadowed by the 46% of votes caused for Donald Trump. That 48% vote share will now go on to be unrepresented in the government because of our first past the post system. Under Dahl’s definition, this could constitute as democratic erosion, as a near half of the countries votes go on to not be represented in the legislature. Those who voted for Hilary do not have their views written onto the national agenda, they do not even get to control a fraction of the decisions Mr.Trump made. This could be considered as the weathering of our democracy, as it is important to consider multiple definitions of what makes a country democratic.
Additionally, claiming that all politicians in the United States are completely dedicated to conserving the democratic process regardless of their partisan preference is dangerous. In class we learned that office seeking politicians care a great deal about how legislation and policy enactment affects their chances of gaining seats of winning office. Some could argue that politicians like Senator John McCain from Arizona and House member French Hill from Arkansas are each office seeking politicians who let their partisan associations obstruct their duty to voting for the people. Both politicians have received over one million dollars individually in funding from the National Riffle Association. The politicians might have seen their chances for re-eelction as more important than voting on matters independently of one’s associations. This happens all the time with politicians on both sides, and who is to say their funding will not influence their voting decisions on matters like gun laws.
One could argue these politicians end up voting for their funding and not for the people as a democracy would entail.