Again we have witnessed children get gunned down within the supposed safety of their own schools. At this point, we’ve all become used to this but this doesn’t make the pain of inaction any less frustrating for our country, but more importantly for the families who will never see their children again. In an interview with Sky News Texas Senator Ted Cruz finally took a stand against the special interests that have led to the United States being a global leader in mass shooting incidents: doors. After Senator Cruz had run out of talking points, he walked away from reporters asking him the question that is on all of our minds: why does this only happen in America?
America’s complete inability to implement any legislation to regulate guns at a federal level is the clearest sign that our democracy does not work. The vast majority of Americans favor common sense gun reform but every time a mass shooting occurs politicians tell us to shut up and offer thoughts and prayers. A functioning democracy would have stepped up and taken action after a tragedy that occurred in Columbine, or Sandy Hook, or San Bernardino or Las Vegas, or Pulse, or Parkland, or Buffalo, or Uvalde or whatever mass shooting has taken place since writing this. Australia and New Zealand both experienced mass shootings and immediately made changes to their gun laws. Both countries have had virtually no mass shootings on this scale since they managed to implement stronger gun control laws.
The failure to address gun violence in America points to a much larger issue with our democracy. The vast majority of people want the government to address gun violence but nothing gets done because the gun lobby has disproportionate influence on the government. Admittedly, polling is somewhat mixed on what percentage of Americans have more strict measures like outright assault rifle bans but even more widely accepted reforms like universal background checks don’t see the light of day in congress. It’s not just gun control where we government inaction like this. Addressing climate change? Nope. Making college tuition free? Crickets. Universal health care? Socialism.
As a country, we will never completely agree on everything but at a certain point we have to wonder how our institutions allow a handful of powerful special interest groups to dictate our public policy conversation. While this problem isn’t new to American politics, in 2010 the Supreme Court went to bat for these powerful interest groups by establishing that using money to support political causes and campaigns is protected speech. The only logical conclusion one can reach from this ruling is that if you have more money you have more speech. Since then, it has been open season for these interest groups to spend as much money as they want to buy both elections and politicians. It is no surprise that political contributions most notably through the use of super pacs has been through the roof which has led to foreign meddling in elections, increased the power of the country’s wealthiest donors, and increased the frequency of negative advertising. In short, the growing influence of money in politics has increased polarization, inequality and all of these issues that experts agree erode people’s faith in democratic institutions.
When people begin to lose faith in their country’s democratic institutions they turn to populist figures that offer a different approach to governance. By itself, populism is not destructive. Throughout history, leaders like Franklin Roosevelt have used populist sentiment to build more inclusive democracies that address the underlying issues that caused the crisis in the first place. This is healthy for democracy but often what happens is that populism yields leaders who question whether or not democracy is worth it. Around the world, there is evidence to suggest that populism has led to the emergence of leaders who support dismantling democracy. Donald Trump capitalized on years of populist sentiment with promises to “drain the swamp” and framed himself as a man of the people despite being a well known billionaire. More recently, he caused enough doubt in the 2020 election that his supporters attempted an insurrection during the certification of election results. It is worth noting that Trump was able to gain popularity in the first place because of legitimate grievances that people had with the government. When the economy collapsed in 2008 the government responded by bailing out the massive banks that were complicit in the predatory lending while regular people were given very little relief. Fast forward eight years and it makes sense why people would turn to someone like Donald Trump. Our institutions have failed to encourage the implementation of policies that the mass majority of Americans desire (ie: Action on climate change, gun violence) so it is perfectly understandable that someone like Trump could be elected. Some will argue that this is how our democracy is supposed to be. The founding fathers designed our constitution to serve as a proverbial cooling saucer against the will of the people. There is some merit to this theory but it is difficult to argue that the current lack of accountability demonstrated by the government on any number of issues is healthy for democracy.
The question is: where do we go from here? A famous organizer once said that there are two forms of power: money power and people power. The only counter to the disproportionate influence of money over politics is by building people power through a robust social movement. Every positive advancement in America’s history has come through this method and we have no reason to believe we’ll get out of this current jam in any other way. Democracy is an experiment and it will fail if people do not demand accountability from their government.
Beauchamp, Zack. “Australia Confiscated 650,000 Guns. Murders and Suicides Plummeted.” Vox. Vox, August 27, 2015. https://www.vox.com/2015/8/27/9212725/australia-buyback.
“Citizens United v. FEC.” FEC.gov. Accessed June 9, 2022. https://www.fec.gov/legal-resources/court-cases/citizens-united-v-fec/.
“New Zealand Tightens Gun Laws Further in Response to Mass Shooting.” Reuters. Thomson Reuters, June 18, 2020. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-newzealand-shooting/new-zealand-tightens-gun-laws-further-in-response-to-mass-shooting-idUSKBN23P0TE.
Taibbi, Matt. “Turns out That Trillion-Dollar Bailout Was, in Fact, Real.” Rolling Stone. Rolling Stone, March 18, 2019. https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-features/2008-financial-bailout-809731/.
“Ten Years after Citizens United.” Public Citizen, January 15, 2020. https://www.citizen.org/article/ten-years-after-citizens-united/.