Volume 31, Number 4

Democracy: A Belief in Something Higher Than One’s Self

Fred Schepartz

Editor’s Note: It is three weeks to the day that the presidential election was called for Joe Biden. Right now, it appears he will become president on January 20, 2021. I would be remiss in not acknowledging that there is who knows what skullfuckery that could happen between now and then, but I have to be pretty certain that the Reign of Error will be ending in less than one month.

We have taken down Giant Baby Man. Our democracy is saved. We now can live happily ever after.

Well, yes, that’s hyperbole. The election was hardly a slam dunk. The Dems didn’t take the Senate and lost seats in the House. Voting patterns demonstrate a continuing and growing weakness in rural areas. There’s finger-pointing among the Dems with attempts to blame the progressive wing of the party for the lack of success.

Biden’s cabinet picks, though competent, if not gifted, demonstrate a more centrist approach than what we on the left would prefer.

But we did get rid of Giant Baby Man. Democracy is safe for the time being, but if this whole experience teaches us one thing, it is that if we want to keep our democracy, we must never stop fighting for it.

Watching the insanity over the past few weeks, I have come to the realization that to believe in democracy is to believe in something greater than one’s self.

To better understand democracy, we need to understand that it is a philosophy, an ideal. It is the belief that the many, not the few, not the one, but the many who should govern. Maybe it’s through true collectivism; maybe it’s through voting and the opportunity to get involved as citizens.

It is the belief that while the majority rules, the minority must be listened to. It is the belief that everyone has a say: one member, one vote, as in the example of cooperatives. It is the belief in separation of powers to ensure checks and balances. It is the belief in certain norms, certain customs and conventions of how a democratic institution and those individuals within the institution are to conduct themselves.

I feel compelled to keep repeating myself. Again, to believe in democracy is to believe in something greater than one’s self. It is to believe in the greater good for society, which means one might not always get everything they want. It means you may have to compromise when you would rather not do so. It means that just because you can do something, that does not mean you should.

As I stated last issue, I do not thing our democracy could have survived another four years of Giant Baby Man.

What we saw continuously was a raw exercise in power, merely for the sake of exercising power. GBM clearly is an autocrat to his core. Holding the most powerful office in the world meant being able to do whatever he wanted with no one to check and balance his power. It meant carte blanche to reward his friends and punish his enemies.

In a democracy, the president is supposed to serve the people, but in the warped and twisted world of GBM, the people are supposed to swear their fealty to him, and the institutions of our government are expected to serve him, such that we saw an attorney general acting as his personal attorney, and our Department of Justice perverted from its intended purpose.

A belief in democracy is not for the cynical. Sadly, such cynicism runs rampant in the Republican Party, with the exception of the dissidents who bravely came out against GBM and the current Republican leadership.

Mitch McConnell is the ultimate embodiment of this cynicism. The hypocrisy of how he handled Supreme Court vacancies following the deaths of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and earlier Antonin Scalia is but an example. He cared not that he was being a total hypocrite. For that matter, neither did Lindsey Graham. After all, one can’t let a notion of higher ideals or even common decency stand in the way of using raw power to get what you want.

McConnell wanted to push the Supreme Court so far to the right that there is no longer a center. He got the opportunity and took it. He refused to give most of Obama’s picks for lower federal court positions a hearing, which meant he could approve GBM’s choices. In addition, he let stacks and stacks of bills passed by the Democratic controlled House die.

And let’s not forget, when Obama was first elected, McConnell stated openly that he would be obstructionist in order to make sure Obama was a one-term president.

McConnell and the rest of them justify such anti-democratic actions by saying the Dems would do the same thing if they had the opportunity.

Such cynicism is how democracies die.

And cynicism seems to be at the root of GBM’s absurd and frankly pathetic attempt to overturn the result of a fair and open election. This is the stuff of a demagogue, not a president who respects democracy.

Of course, a big part of it is that his ego and vanity will not accept that he lost to Joe Biden. After all, Biden could not have possibly received 80 million votes. He could not have won the popular vote without massive fraud. For that matter, Hilary Clinton could not have won the popular vote unless millions of non-citizens had been allowed to vote.

Like the true demagogue, we see wild, paranoid accusations, but no proof. His team has sought relief in court after court after court but has presented no credible evidence of fraud and has not won any substantive victories. I think his team actually has only won one case, and that was over a strictly procedural matter of how close their poll watchers could be.

But at least we’ve had the amusing theater of watching the utter and complete unhinging of Rudy Ghouliani.

Sadly, perhaps even tragically, the pattern we have seen in these court challenges and recounts is that most of the contested areas are urban regions with large minority populations, as if these votes should not count.

Here in Wisconsin, his team requested recounts not for the whole state, but just extremely liberal Dane County and Milwaukee County, which has the largest African American population in the state. If they would’ve been able to get their way, they would throw away every single vote in these two counties. As it is, they’ve made overtures toward eliminating all absentee ballots or at least all in-person absentee ballots (it should be noted that an attorney on the Dane County legal team voted in-person absentee, so he was willing to declare his and his wife’s votes to be illegal). It is also worth noting that these two counties do not use Dominion voting machines, the ones so vilified by GBM et al.

We should not be surprised by such blatantly racists tactics. After all, racist voter suppression techniques have been part and parcel of the Republican Party’s election strategy. Be it gerrymandering, voter ID, restricting absentee ballots, limiting the numbers of voting machines in minority areas, the goal is clear to make it harder for people to vote, especially if they are not white.

And how far does this cynicism go?

With each passing day, GBM more strongly urges Republican held legislatures to step in and choose their own slates of electors. He cares so little for democracy that he’d stage a coup to keep power and disregard the will of the people.

This is how democracies die.

But how do democracies live? How do democracies thrive?

A lot of this formula includes individuals, sometimes ordinary people.

Consider Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. He’s a Republican and felt the need to state publicly that he wanted GBM to win. But he cares first about his state and his country and simply did his job, which was not to tip the scales, but to ensure a free and fair election so the people could decide. This is especially jarring given the degree of voter suppression in Georgia, where just two years ago, the previous secretary of state, used the powers of his office to his advantage in his campaign for governor against Stacey Abrams.

Also, consider former Director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency Chris Krebs. He was appointed to this position by GBM. What did he do? He did his job to strengthen the security of our election apparatus from hacking by foreign powers. He also did a lot of work with state election agencies and personnel. The result was an election relatively free from foreign interference. And he was even able to confidently say exactly that.

And for his hard work, Krebs got fired.

But to me, the real heroes are the people who handled the nuts and bolts of the real election work. This includes staff of each state’s election commission, but also the county and municipal clerks.

But most of all, we must commend the election workers. I have some friends who were poll workers. They worked long hours for little pay. During the early voting period, they braved cold and wet weather to allow people to vote. During the recount, they had to deal with rude behavior from GBM’s poll watchers. And it should be noted that they faced the threat of contracting Covid.

For each and every poll worker, there is a strong sense of patriotism, that in order for our democracy to survive, they needed to step up and make sure that everyone could vote and that every vote would be counted. That is why the City of Madison had no trouble filling the 6000 slots needed to run the election and count the votes. It was not out of hatred of GBM. Nor was it for a love of Joe Biden. It was for a love of democracy.

This is what democracy looks like.

So, we can assume our democracy is safe, at least for a little while. But what happens now?

We have a nation deeply divided. GBM certainly did his utmost to accomplish that goal, as well as discrediting key components of our democracy including governmental institutions, the media and our election process itself.

We have a Republican Party that has become the party of the lunatic fringe. I don’t know what moderate Republicans who stood against GBM will do. Will they rejoin and try to rebuild their party? Will they permanently join the Democratic Party, thus pushing it to the right?

Maybe progressives will end up forming their own party, which could lead to something approaching a parliamentary system.

Who knows?

What I know for sure is this is not sustainable. We can’t have half the country viewing the half with blind hatred. Every election cannot have existential ramifications.

Maybe it is impossible at this point, but we need to be able to disagree on matters of policy in a civil and reasonable manner. We need to be able to find common cause in terms of our system of democracy. Again, to believe in democracy is to believe in something greater than one’s self.

We must find a way to come together in the name of an ideal rather than fall apart into isolated camps of cynicism.