Dateline: April 16, 2018
By Jack Moscou
In our hyper-active 24/7-hour cable tv / facebook / twitter world anything more than one day old is already yesterday’s news and consigned to ancient history. Along with just about everyone else I couldn’t help noticing that Donald Trump claimed that if he had been at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida he would have run into the building even if he didn’t have a gun. This is from the guy who dodged the draft five times during the Vietnam War including one time when he got a medical exemption by claiming his feet hurt from a bone spur. If I had his sheer unmitigated gall I would rob banks for a living secure in the knowledge that I would get away with it.
A few observations about the current spate of the GOP gerrymandering to make every election as safe as they can possible for Republican Party candidates: First, let me say that the current Republican Party strategy to win elections by gerrymandering is not a new phenomenon. The process, which first appeared in Essex County in 1812 in Massachusetts, by then governor Gerry, was described by the residents of the redistricted area as looking like a salamander.
As I will note in a few paragraphs down suppressing the vote is not a “party” thing: It is those in power trying to maintain their privileged status and democracy be damned.
Let me also add that I am in complete agreement with those conservatives who point out that we are not a democracy; that our founding fathers gave us a republican form of government, not a democracy.
At its birth, the United States was not a democratic nation—far from it. The very word “democracy” had pejorative overtones, summoning up images of disorder, government by the unfit, even mob rule. In fact, in our very first “democratic’ elections, the only people who could vote were property owning white Anglican males. Among the excluded were African Americans (slave or free) Native Americans, women, white males who did not own land, and members of religious groups other than the Anglican faith. John Adams, signer of the Declaration of Independence and later president, wrote in 1776 that no good could come from enfranchising more Americans:
“Depend upon it, Sir, it is dangerous to open so fruitful a source of controversy and altercation as would be opened by attempting to alter the qualifications of voters; there will be no end to it. New claims will arise; women will demand the vote; lads from 12 to 21 will think their rights not enough attended to; and every man who has not a farthing, will demand an equal voice with any other, in all acts of state. It tends to confound and destroy all distinctions and prostrate all ranks to one common level.”
The current Republican Party strategy to win elections by everything from gerrymandering to suppressing the vote is not a new phenomenon, nor is it limited to the Republicans.
In the Jim Crow post-reconstruction South, the Democrats used the poll tax, phony literacy tests, intimidation, and outright murder and terror to prevent African Americans from voting. The big city Democratic Party machines were not nearly as awful but had no problem in making sure the African American vote was marginalized.
In the 150 or so years it took women to get the right to vote virtually all of the political elite, the clergy, the media of the day, and the “leading” citizens were united in their opposition to women having the right to vote.
Every attempt to expand the vote to an enlarged constituency has been met with resistance: Why, for instance, do we vote on Tuesday, a work day that makes voting at the very least a chore for many people; and why, in so many cases, do people have to stand in line for hours to cast their vote because there are not enough polling places?
Why is Election Day not a national holiday and why is there not a concentrated effort to make voting a civic virtue resulting in 90% of the populace voting as opposed to our present roughly 50%. And while I am on the subject our “real” elections take place not on Election Day but on primary day where probably less than 15% vote and as a result on Election Day we are reduced to voting for one of two candidates selected primarily by the two-party machines.
Somebody once said it’s not that Christianity has been tried and found wanting but rather it has been found difficult and never tried. Not being religious myself I would change that to it’s not that democracy has been tried and found wanting but that democracy has been found to be troublesome to the rich and powerful and never really been tried.
I have no objection to anyone struggling to find meaning in life through faith, yoga, meditation, Zen, or any other form of transcendence. However, I would respectfully submit that until we reject rugged individualism and stop exalting “free” enterprise we will continue to lurch from one cycle to another; a period of progress and reform followed by a period of reaction and roll-back.
It is not an aberration or unfortunate happenstance that after the Civil War reconstruction was followed by Jim Crow in the South and black second-class citizenship in the North.
It is not an aberration or unfortunate happenstance that the civil rights victories of post-World War 2 are being rolled back.
It is not an aberration or unfortunate happenstance that the economic gains of working people during the New Deal of the 1930’s has been rolled back.
It is not an aberration or unfortunate happenstance that the workplace environment and better wages won by the unions and progressives immediately after World War 2 have been rolled back.
It seems to be all too true that power concedes nothing unless forced to and that greed, hatred, racism, sexism, xenophobia are like weeds— they can, and do, lie dormant for years, hidden under the rocks like weeds, only to reappear again and again. Only constant struggle can create the democracy we deserve but do not yet have.
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Jack Moscou is a co-founder of The Writers Collective. He has an extensive background in management training, strategic planning, and political consulting. His commentary on political events was previously posted in www.bloggingforutopia.com. He is the author of Why Not Utopia: A Political Platform in Search of a Party.