Show Me What Democracy Looks Like
Republicans and Democrats are gravitating away from the center, but Republicans are moving farther faster. It is hard to point a finger like this and still come across as a neutral voice. When we think about social polarization and the ways our family shape us- I come from a mixed bag. My father’s side is very conservative and my mothers side is very liberal. Growing up and even now I get information and viewpoints from both sides. This has always been important to me because as a child I saw how much animosity there was between the parties my parents aligned with and it deeply bothered me. There’s me trying to establish a rapport. I hope it worked because here we go.
In front of the Shelby County town hall a person screams “show me what democracy looks like!” and the crowd screams back “this is what democracy looks like!”. All across the nation thousands of protests for climate action took place. In big cities, small cities, and here in Memphis, Tennessee. All screaming for meaningful legislation on climate change. I thought to myself- “is this what Democracy looks like?” While sucking on my single-use plastic Juul pod. “Looks pretty good from here.”
The event was organized by a group from the University of Memphis. One of the coordinators, a friend of mine, finds me in the crowd and gives me a sweaty side-hug. “This turned out so much better than I thought it would,” he said, “There were so many roadblocks”. He looks stressed out but before I can ask him to elaborate he runs off to deal with something else. I know what jeff is talking about. The bureaucratic hoops they had to jump through to get a special use permit for the otherwise empty park across the street from City Hall must have been a nightmare. The lead coordinator tells me she is upset at how difficult it is to obtain a protest permit in Memphis and that “we should not have to get permission to protest. That goes against the whole point of a protest.” I agree with her, but then I rememeber how polarized we have become and how dangerous recent protests have been. I wouldn’t want it to be easy for those radical groups to protest whenever they please. Polarized groups are more likely to take extreme action so its no surprise these protests turned out the way they did or even existed in the first place. While the world climate is reaching a point of no return, it seems that democracy in America is too.
This is What Democracy Looks Like
Republicans play constitutional hard-ball and are more likely to use democratic institutions to their advantage than their Democratic counterparts. Republicans consistent fear of losing is disintegrating the institutions we depend on to keep american democracy safe and authoritarianism at bay.
Some examples of Republicans use of constitutional hard-ball include: In 2016 they did not allow Obama to fill the empty seat on the supreme court but confirmed Trump’s choice, Neil Gorsuch, to fill the seat left by the retirement of Anthony Kennedy. They even changed the rules for confirmation to block a filibuster by Democrats. In 2018 Pennsylvania supreme court blocked Republican gerrymandering initiatives and republican legislators tried to impeach these justices. Now some in Trump’s circle are refusing to comply with the impeachment inquiry. Fishkin and Pozen wrote for Columbia Law Review that while both sides engage in constitutional hard-ball the right has polarized further to the right and is more willing to push the limitations of democratic institutions to their benefit than the left. This phenomenon is called asymmetric polarization. This hard-ball is detrimental to our democracy. Citizens need to be aware of this attitude of win-at-all-costs and how harmful it is to the public. Not only does it weaken our institutions, it hastens their rate of polarization and leads to the sanction of these radical groups and violent protests.
While many past presidents and public figures have had accusations of being populists or authoritarians leveled against them, Donald Trump is unlike any politician we have seen before. Perhaps the republican party sees in him a possibility of further power consolidation. Maybe they know he is capable of being a populist authoritarian. In the Sunstein piece on polarization we learn that when like-minded people get together they tend to get more extreme in their beliefs. As centrists leave the group they only go further and further in one direction and become more willing to take dramatic measures. High-profile Republicans cautioned america about Donald Trump. Many even pulled their support for him including John McCain, George W. Bush, and Carly Fiorina to name just a few. George H. W. Bush went so far as to vote for Hillary Clinton.
We can not be like frogs in boiling water that do not realize the danger they are in until it’s too late. We can not sit still until something drastic takes place like a state of emergency declared that expands the powers of the president and those powers are taken advantage of. Trump has already declared a state of emergency. On February 15th he declared an emergency to get funding for the border wall- something congress had already voted against….
Maybe liberals started it with hard-ball during the New Deal. This is another implication that scares me. Instead of both sides deciding to play nice and abide by the norms and morals we have enjoyed in the past, will democrats start to fight back harder and match the Republicans win-by-any-means-necessary attitude? Many democratic senators have been signing onto the Green New Deal, a piece of legislation that goes very far to the left and harkens back to the New Deal. Some argue that senators are signing onto this legislation to secure votes. Are we bound to cyclically repeat history so fast centrifugal force pushes us further and further apart? We need to stop thinking that any certain leader will solve all of our problems and begin looking at the way our government is structured and has been taken advantage of to the detriment of bipartisanship.
On my way back to the car after the climate strike, I found a car air freshener still in the wrapper. Cherry scented. I hung it up in my car feeling like that was the best thing I did for the environment that day and that is how I think many feel about the state of democracy. Picking up scraps where they can and too helpless or self conscious to make real change.