Some Things, And Some People, Deserve Our Contempt

“The vote is precious. It is almost sacred. It is the most powerful nonviolent instrument or tool that we have in a democratic society and we must use it.”

John Lewis

If you have watched any television news programs the last day or two, you no doubt have come into contact with Senator Ben Sasse, who has written a book, Them: Why We Hate Each Other — and How to Heal. As NPR’s Michael Schaub put it, “Sasse’s book aims to figure out what it is that’s made American politics so tribalistic and vicious, and to offer suggestions for reconciliation.” One reason for the vicious political tribalism, according to Sasse, is the prevalence of modern technology, including smart phones and the Internet, which have left people “feeling more isolated, adrift, and purposeless than ever before.” Sasse says, “We’re hyperconnected, and we’re disconnected.” Schaub continues:

The nation, Sasse writes, has descended into a set of “‘anti-tribes,’ defined by what we’re against rather than what we’re for.” He blames confirmation bias and the rise of inflammatory political rhetoric for this, writing that “liberals and conservatives no longer believe the same things, we don’t understand how our opponents believe what they believe, and we soothe our lonely souls with the balm of contempt.”

This analysis assumes that “our opponents” don’t deserve “contempt.” But, oh, they often do. I’m especially thinking here of Republicans who, through voter suppression tactics, are trying to shape the electorate in their own image, which is to say they are trying to make it older and whiter than it really is. And many of those tactics are working. As Rolling Stone’s Jamil Smith pointed out (“Why Republicans Are Suppressing Black Votes: An aging, white Republican Party reliant upon unvarnished racism cannot survive without choosing its electorate”):

Roughly 16 million voters were removed from state rolls in the three years following the 2013 Supreme Court Shelby County decision that neutered federal pre-clearance in the Voting Rights Act — unsurprisingly, the effect has been discriminatory. Another Supreme Court ruling in June allowed Ohio to continue its practice of purging voters who fail to respond to a mailer and to vote in consecutive federal elections. Mostly black and urban neighborhoods were targeted. Ohio is a state run by Republicans, after all.

Smith also points to the “unconscionable seizure of Hispanic-Americans’ passports along the Texas-Mexico border and the targeting of college students for invalidation in New Hampshire and Wisconsin.” Another example is also in Texas, where Republicans made it harder for students to vote by not allowing student IDs to suffice as identification.

Image result for republican voter suppressionThen there is the situation in North Carolina, with its swing-state status and diverse electorate, where, in 2016, a District Court found Republicans had unconstitutionally gerrymandered districts for partisan reasons, extremely diluting the power of Democratic votes, especially minority ones (black voters make up almost 25% of the electorate). The problem is that the U.S. Supreme Court butted in and essentially forced the District Court to allow Republicans to use the unconstitutional districts for this upcoming election, due to time constraints.

Then there is North Dakota, where the Supreme Court blessed a voter ID law that clearly discriminates against Native Americans, who just happen to overwhelmingly support Democrats. Oh, and don’t forget Georgia, where the Republican candidate for governor, who happens to oversee the election process as secretary of state, has put around 53,000 voter registration applications—70% of them are from aspiring black voters—on hold, as part of both a short- and long-term scheme to suppress minority votes.

Finally, there is the issue of “felony disenfranchisement,” which, according to The Sentencing Project, has robbed one of every 13 African-Americans of their voting rights. While this is a problem in both red and blue states (only two states have no restrictions whatsoever), the most extreme restrictions are found in mostly red states. Felony disenfranchisement affects more than six million Americans. Six million Americans.

It’s hard to imagine what could be more anti-democratic, and anti-American, than inventing ways to discourage voting and suppress potential voters. It’s a weird democracy that has an electoral system that allows such conspiratorial manipulation. We should have automatic universal registration, say, when one gets a Social Security card. But we don’t. We have a system in which one party, the Republican Party, finds it a fundamental need to pass laws designed to keep it in power by making it difficult, if not impossible, for some people to participate in our experiment with democracy.

And, despite what Ben Sasse says, the people who practice the dark art and dark science of voter suppression—his fellow Republicans—richly deserve our utter contempt.

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  1. Duane,

    Don’t know if you’re aware of it or not, but I had an op-ed published in the Glob last Sunday, the14th. It was titled, “Why we are a quasi-democracy.”

    It was not my best work. In fact, a lot more work was needed. In any case, I tried to make the point that we are not a democracy. We are in a constitutional republic. The word “democracy” is never used in the body of the constitution or any of its amendments. (It’s not used in the Declaration of Independence either.) I argued, not very well I’m afraid, that we are almost entirely depended on our representatives – elected and not elected – to run the government for us.

    But there is a serious flaw in this arrangement. Voting is not much help. The ballot box is no match for multi-million dollar political campaigns. In 2016, voters reelected 97% of House incumbents and 93% of incumbent senators. Yet, we the people gave Congress an 18 % approval rate that same year.

    And as you point out here and many other places in this blog, our government, which is to say, our representatives, is corrupt. The corruption of voting rights is just one example. And it’s not just the rule of law being perverted, it’s the corruption of morality as well.

    I could go on and on. But I want to leave you with this quote from Hannah Arendt’s “The Origins of Totalitarianism.” Written more than 60 years ago, it reads as though it was written today.

    “In an ever-changing, incomprehensible world the masses had reached the point where they would, at the same time, believe everything and nothing, think that everything was possible and that nothing was true. … Mass propaganda discovered that its audience was ready at all times to believe the worst, no matter how absurd, and did not particularly object to being deceived because it held every statement to be a lie anyhow. The totalitarian mass leaders based their propaganda on the correct psychological assumption that, under such conditions, one could make people believe the most fantastic statements one day, and trust that if the next day they were given irrefutable proof of their falsehood, they would take refuge in cynicism; instead of deserting the leaders who had lied to them, they would protest that they had known all along that the statement was a lie and would admire the leaders for their superior tactical cleverness.”


    p.s. I hope you are well and kicking the shit out of the C monster.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thanks, Herb. I’m doing my best on the cancer front. Been through chemo and radiation therapy and now I’m waiting on a surgery date. Fingers crossed.

      You do a good job of pointing out how distrustful of democracy were most of our Founders, which is mostly why we have the flawed system we have. I like the term quasi-democracy, as it aptly describes our situation.

      While I find your criticisms of our democratic system (loosely defined) valid, I have to admit I am not in love with the verdict you pronounce: “Those who say our democracy is dead and ineffective are mostly right.” I continue to have some hope that this midterm election will breathe some new life into things, even if the national government’s effectiveness may not increase. We the people, while we do rely on our representatives to make government work, have our own work to do. And our work is at the ballot box. You seem to severely discount that privilege and responsibility.

      Ultimately, if our experiment with self-government fails, it will be the fault of the people. Maybe not the fault of all the people, but the fault of a majority who either make bad electoral choices or, more worryingly, don’t bother to vote at all. I fear that attitudes like yours, which I totally understand and have a lot of sympathy for, will only serve to make things worse. We gotta keep hope alive, as long as we can. Otherwise, what is left?


      Liked by 1 person

      • Duane,

        Like I said, the op-ed needed a lot of help; i.e., editing. I shoulda deleted the phrase, “Those who say our democracy is dead and ineffective are mostly right.” Dead? no, ineffective?, yes.

        Not only do voters rubber stamp their representatives, a substantial number don’t even bother to vote; especially in mid-term elections. Turnout in the 2014 midterm was the lowest since World War II. Just 37% of eligible voters cast ballots, down five points from the 42% of eligible voters who voted in 2010. But I have no doubt that 2018 will have a very high turnout.

        In the 2016 presidential election, 138 million voted out of a total 250 million eligible to vote, or roughly 55%. Trump got almost 63 millions votes, which is 25% of those eligible. In other words, 75% of total and would-be voters did not vote for Trump. Thus, the tyranny of the minority – something the framers worried about a lot. (By the way the voting statistics for Hillary are just slightly better – but still a minority)

        Voters on the whole are politically, historically, and constitutionally illiterate. It’s no wonder they keep sending incumbents back to D.C. They must have a substantial education to make informed choices.

        On that point, I’ve suggested before that those wishing to vote must pass the Citizenship Test given to immigrants who want to become naturalized citizens. If not that, then something equivalent. The right to vote carries with it a responsibility to be informed of the issues and the candidates. If we are going to blame the voters for the mess we’re in, then we have to infer that they know what they are voting for. Otherwise, it’s democracy adrift in a sea of ignorance and the abuse of a hard-won right.

        Madison writes in Federalist 10, “A popular government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance. And a people who mean to be their own Governors must arm themselves with the Power that knowledge gives.”

        The very first sentence in Federalist 10 is, “AMONG the numerous advantages promised by a well constructed Union, none deserves to be more accurately developed than its tendency to break and control the violence of faction.” How do you think Madison would react if he saw the almost unchecked factions of today?

        No, democracy is not dead, but it is wounded, perhaps mortally. I’ll close with Madison again:

        “. . . democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.”



        • Herb,

          To put a finer point on it, I would say our democracy is increasingly ineffective, in terms of both solving domestic problems and, of course, international problems. We are getting damned close to completely ineffective, though.

          Your point about turnout is exactly right. It is incomprehensible to me why so many people don’t bother to vote, given it is all the voice we have, unless we have lots and lots of money.

          You are right that turnout will be high this year, but it will not likely be as high as in presidential years, which is cause for concern. And I have posted those stunning 2016 voting statistics you cite a couple of times. Besides being stunning, they are totally depressing. 

          As for the illiterate voter, yep, on the whole they are, that’s for sure. But I’m not sure what good a Citizenship Test would do. How often would one take it? And how would passing it guarantee, say, that voters were informed about climate change? I blame the voters in the sense that they don’t get themselves better informed, test or no test. And the problem with a test is that would be one more hurdle in the way of wider participation. I seek some democratic refuge in big numbers, as I think the more people who participate in the electoral process the less likely we are to elect a corrupt buffoon to high office. I wouldn’t want to do anything that further discourages people from voting. Madison is right that knowledge will always govern ignorance, but, again, I believe that the more people who vote the better chance we have of getting a better outcome.

          Madison, a man of means, of course distrusted real democracy. It’s not an accident that in your final quote he refers to democracies threatening “the rights of property.” Those with a lot of property tend to worry about such things. As for the factions, I think he would be very pleased with the factions he sees today, at least in one respect. The way our system is designed, it is very hard for one faction to dominate another for very long. That was not a flaw in the design but a feature. Efficiency was sacrificed on the altar of safety—especially for those of wealth, who have always had an outsize hand in running things. The House may turn Democratic next year and counter, totally, anything that hard-core Republicans want to do. Madison would, I think, be pleased.


          Liked by 1 person

          • Mollie and I asked a young server we know at a restaurant last night whether she and her partner were going to vote. I had the impression that it had not been a priority in her mind until then. Turnout will be crucial.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Absolutely. Some study out today showed more enthusiasm than usual among young folks. Worthless, though, if it doesn’t translate into votes.


  2. Absolutely. Some study out today showed more enthusiasm than usual among young folks. Worthless, though, if it doesn’t translate into votes.


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