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November 27, 2018 · OPINION

Voters must take control of our imperiled democracy

By J. Norman Reid

It should be evident to all that American democracy is in serious jeopardy. We vote, to be sure, and it’s also true that elections can have positive consequences. But it’s also true that the validity of our elections is considerably flawed.

Just consider the evidence about the widespread, if time-honored, practice of rigging election outcomes through gerrymandering. By drawing legislative district boundaries to be safe for one party, politicians can easily defeat the will of the voters. Our 5th Congressional District, which snakes its way from the bottom of the state to nearly its top, is a good illustration of electoral cheating. Though both parties have engaged in gerrymandering over the decades, the Republican Party undertook a major nationwide commitment to rig state legislative and congressional districts following the 2010 Census, and it is currently the principal culprit in this crime of injustice.

Another practice is to suppress or deny the vote to eligible members of the electorate. It’s done to garner undeserved political power by officials with a low regard for the rights of citizens. Once again, the Republican Party in such states as Georgia, North Carolina and North Dakota was notably aggressive in vote suppression during the 2018 elections, though the practice was hardly limited to these states.

Add to this the massive influx of corporate spending on political campaigns unleashed by recent Supreme Court decisions that have enabled the purchase of elections by a greedy minority. Under all these conditions, it’s hardly surprising that the electoral process by which our democracy functions is severely hamstrung.

But these depredations on elections are only the beginning of our democracy’s troubles. We live in an era in which knowledge and expertise are devalued, truth is dishonored and denied, and lying is rampant. Democracy can only thrive in a climate of honesty and the free flow of accurate information. Because that is not true of conditions in America at the present time, our supposed democracy is flailing.

In addition, some leaders in positions of public responsibility — again, notably Republicans — have increasingly resorted to acting by autocratic means. “My way or the highway” — bending good rules and well-establish norms of behavior — has become standard practice by politicians willing to sacrifice fair play to get what they want, whether it’s merited or, as is often the case, not. Such cheating is contrary to the principles of democracy and undercuts its ability to perform as we need it to do.

Most of our problems stem from the severe and growing concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a tiny elite. It is no longer reasonable to regard the U.S. as a functioning democracy. We are now a democracy in form only. The fact that our political system is owned by big corporations and the super-wealthy means that, in reality, we have become an oligarchy.

America faces many serious issues, among them affordable health care, decaying infrastructure, the continuing squeeze on a shrinking middle class and corporate pressure driving much of the workforce ever closer to Third World conditions. But without denying the critical importance of these issues, it must be clearly understood that the fundamental problem — the underlying cause driving all the others — is control of the levers of power by the very wealthy few who regard solving these problems as contrary to their own narrow, selfish interests.

This erosion of our democracy has become possible because the American electorate is poorly or erroneously informed, distracted by entertainment and consumerism, and unwilling to think beyond long-held but no longer meaningful political allegiances. Unless we voters reclaim our rightful hold on governmental power, we’re certain to fail to solve our social and economic problems. To succeed will require us to resist the greedy few, arm ourselves with reliable and fact-based information, and take convincing action at the polls and through direct involvement. The 2018 elections were a small beginning. Much more is needed.
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Woodchuck · December 28, 2018 at 2:14 am
Most of our problems stem from the severe and growing concentration of lawlessness, liberals, communists, socialists, and fake news.
Melrose Carter · November 28, 2018 at 4:05 pm

"Just take a big bucket outside and use "white tears" to make Kool-Aid. ... You've never had a better glass of red Kool-Aid than one that's made with white tears."

Damon Young
martinwilliams81 · November 27, 2018 at 12:47 pm
J. Reid - there are several inaccuracies in your letter that need to be corrected.

First, Democrats love gerrymandering when they get to do it. Just looks a California, Maryland, and New Mexico. The liberal website Daily Beast has a great article on how Democrats use gerrymandering to marginalize Republicans in these states and more( A federal court in Maryland just sided with Republicans saying that the Democrats gerrymandering in Maryland was unconstitutional and the lines must be redrawn. So, to say that this is a Republican only problem is disingenuous.

Second, there is no voter suppression in North Dakota, Georgia, or North Carolina. The Supreme Court decided that the North Dakota voter I.D. law is constitutional in a 6-2 vote, with liberal justices Breyer and Sotomeyer siding with the majority that the law is constitutional. In Georgia the state removed 107,000 voters who had not voted in the previous two elections AND did not respond to request from local election boards about keeping their registration active. The same thing happened in democrat states like Colorado, which has removed over 700,000 voters from their rolls in the last decade, but liberals don't seem to mind when their party has control. In North Carolina the voters of the state approved an amendment to the constitution that requires an I.D. to vote, which is their right. When making criticisms, you should be fair and look at democrat states as well. New York is famous for voter suppression, requiring independents to switch party affiliation 8 months before primaries if they want to vote. Here is a great article on Democrat's suppressing the vote:

Third, your massive amounts of corporate spending may not be going where you think it is. According to Open Secrets, not only did Democrats outspend Republicans by $455 million in the 2018 election, but 10 of the top 15 organizations in the 2018 election gave 97% or more of their money to Democrats, including 4 corporations owned by liberals and 5 unions.

Fourth, you go onto say that "some leaders," again singling out Republicans, are acting by autocratic means. You ignore Obama's executive orders that allowed wonton bombing of Muslim countries, his policy that allowed the use of drones to kill American citizens overseas without trial, the administration collecting the email and phone records of millions of Americans on a daily basis, and the fact that Obama only let about 50,000 refugees into the U.S. annually (in line with Trump) until it was Election Year in 2016 and he opened the floodgates. And remember, it was Obama in 2014 who said, "I've got a pen and I've got a phone, and I can use that pen to sign executive orders and take executive actions and administrative actions that move the ball forward." After all, why would Obama need Congress for?

Fifth, the United States has never been a democracy, which is a direct vote of the people, rather we are a representative republic, which is completely different. Why are we not a democracy? Because the Founding Fathers feared rule by the mob. And while the top earners in the United States, like liberals George Soros, Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Mark Zuckerburg, Michael Bloomberg, Larry Page and Sergey Brin earn a lot of money, the rest of us have seen a massive increase in personal wealth over the last century as the size of the economic pie has gotten bigger and bigger.

Sixth, the middle class in the U.S. is, according to Pew Research, still larger and wealthier than Europe's overall. You also have to consider that, simply because someone is currently in one "class" or another, it does not mean that they will remain there forever. People move up and down the "class" structure all the time, so it is not stagnant. In fact, most of the people in the top 10% are nouveau rich, earning their wealth in the last 50 years. And I think it is just silly for you to say, with even the poor in the United States owning cars, having air conditioning, and access to 2,000 calories a day, that the U.S. workforce is anywhere near Third World conditions. To compare the U.S. workforce to the tens of thousands of under nourished and malnourished people in the bottom billion of the world does those individuals an incredible disservice.

Finally, I agree that the "American electorate is poorly or erroneously informed, distracted by entertainment and consumerism, and unwilling to think beyond long-held but no longer meaningful political allegiances." I disagree why that is. I tend to think it is because of a poorly run public education system, controlled by teacher unions and Democrats who promise the public access to government programs in exchange for their votes and loyalty.
RGLJA · November 27, 2018 at 11:21 am
Aside from the author's absurdly biased viewpoint that Republicans are to blame for all our political problems, he is right that gerrymandering is not a new problem. It's been with us for centuries. If he thinks the 5th district is gerrymandered now, wait until he sees what the Democrats have in mind for the next redistricting of Virginia which will follow the 2020 census. I eagerly await his next article decrying what the Democrats are doing as they attempt to control the redistricting. I'd bet my house that it will not be a bipartisan profile in courage.
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