On Tuesday Oct. 27, student members of the Edinboro University philosophy club delivered their papers in a panel geared toward answering the question, “Is Democracy Still Alive in America.” Club members Alex Moseley and Ashley Slayton took turns explaining and rationalizing their stance on the aforementioned question while president Kailey Murphy moderated the panel.
I’m always surprised by the initial turnout of such events, which began with 26 audience members and dwindled down to half that number by the time questions were asked after the panelists had finished. Ironically, the issue of apathy being symptomatic is one of the plethora of reasons why democracy is likely coming to its end. And it was an area of contention brought up in both panelists’ speeches, yet the students who fled for the doors as soon as Murphy announced that those who did not want to stay for Q&A were welcome to leave was astounding. Routine malaise and disregard is certainly a part of the problem America faces when it comes to important issues in politics, but this disinterest seems to be a byproduct of sorts from other revelations of democratic disillusion.
Slayton, the first to speak, suggested that “Democracy in America isn’t dead, per se, but is actually slowly dying of an unknown disease.”
“A true democracy would allow each and every single qualified voting citizen’s choice to count. Rather than doing that, we let our divided 50 states count as a whole for a party. I don’t think my state should represent my views. As a human being, I want to stand for my own beliefs. Rather than two final parties, why not have 3, or 4, even 5? I feel this would give us an appropriate ballot for both majority and minority populations,” Slayton said.
“A majority of America’s population is impoverished, poor, or middle-class, which leaves the wealthy at the top 1 percent of our income strata,” Slayton continued. “They make (the acquisition) of money the main goal, but why? Money, power and greed control this country like its own dictator. Objects and irrefutable beliefs rule people like no other. We’ve lost the concept of loving and caring for one another as people. We can’t have a good democracy while having a flawed society, and that’s what we need to focus our energy on if we want change: society.”
While I vehemently agree with Ms. Slayton on choice issues, I have to wonder if our democracy, in its definition, is not already crumbling. It’s one thing to say we need to focus our energy on changing society, but what if we’re already too far down the “rabbit- hole,” so to speak, what if we’ve groomed and allowed narcissism and self-interest to grow so monstrous that nothing short of a miracle will abate our collective transgressions.
For a while, I’ve had this nagging thought in my head that I was deluding myself into believing that the government is working of the people, by the people, and for the people. It wasn’t until I looked at a study done by Princeton University where 20 years’ worth of data was collected and analyzed to answer one simple question: Does the government represent the people? According to this study, an idea that nearly no one in America would support has a 30 percent chance of becoming law. In contrast, take an incredibly popular idea, and there’s also a mere 30 percent chance it will be signed into law. To put it as the Princeton study found, “preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near zero, statistically non-significant impact on public policy.”
Upsetting, no? This unfortunate truth is only exacerbated by the fact that the economic elite have pandered to select politicians that, in turn, legislate on their behalf. That is why, in the study, there is a 61 percent likelihood that the agenda of those with social clout will have their will heard by the government. And how do we pay for these policies to become law? Taxation.
With the world’s most expensive healthcare system, with a tax code that is an endless mess, with wasteful spending, with a floundering educational system, a senseless drug war, and nearly one in five Americans born into poverty, we pay. This happens because it is currently legal to buy political influence. Look to lobbyists and Super PACs, where the sole job of those involved in those schemes is to make sure the government gives the companies what they want by leaving them sinfully large bank invoices and uncontested election campaigns.
To make this stop we must sever the tie between special interest groups, lobbyists, their campaign donations and lucrative insider job opportunities, all before the bill becomes a law. About 5.8 billion dollars went into campaign financing last year, and that’s only between the top 5 companies. Big companies average 4.4 trillion in taxpayer support annually, but the tax in no way represents the majority on behalf of the companies.
Alex Moseley, the second panelist had some thought-provoking insights, but his speech was laced with an idealism that, despite my best efforts to put my cynicism aside, rang false. He did however, have some enlightening thoughts that left the room slightly more hopeful than would be the case had I spoken:
“Democracy is this continued process of divining ethical balance in our multi-faceted society, a juggling act of the diverse range of views intrinsic to American culture,” said Mosely gesturing around the room.
“It is the form of best fit, an imperfect symbiosis of varying perspectives. It is, at present, the highest hope, the most proven method, the most socially flexible moral governing system yet developed. It is a system accountable to the people; and, in such a society, it is the people who determine their ultimate fate, who steer the ship toward their own ethical ends along the direction of their moral compass, who facilitate the democratic process, and who are responsible to preserve the freedom to which they are entitled as citizens of a Democracy, equal under the law. Its highly-responsive nature enables swift changes in applications of constitutional ethics, formulating new laws which, by trial and error, increase the protection of the individual and the overall standard of living.”
I nodded my head in agreement, forever the sap for believing in a brighter tomorrow. Democracy might be dying, it might even be dead, but it seems to simultaneously be the most imperfect, perfect system — something worth fighting for its survival.
Emma Giering is the Voices Editor for The Spectator. She can be reached at email@example.com