Is Democracy Dividing Us?

Is Democracy Dividing Us? October 29, 2012

I’ve watched with some fascination as the projected electoral map takes shape, with great swaths of red across the heart of the nation, with blue surrounding on the left and right perimeters. There are a few exceptions, but for the most part, we’re a polarized nation, at least according to the maps the media present.

Day by day, new states are colored in one way or the other as the predictions become more grounded in real-time data. As less is left to speculation, more attention is afforded to those areas still up for speculation, like Ohio. For some, the entire 18-plus-month presidential drama that is the election cycle will come down to the handful of undecided voters who will tip the scales in this one midwest state.

Is this right?

It got me thinking further about the entire “representative democracy” we generally hold up as superior to all others. But to paint any one state as monolithically red or blue is, of course, a gross exaggeration. It simply means that at least fifty percent plus one of that population voted the same way. The rest? Well, better luck next time, but you get nothing.

This also is why we’re left with largely a two-party system, with minor parties relegated to the fringes, hoping to grasp enough public attention to sway one of the two larger parties. But the notion of a Libertarian or Green candidate occupying the Oval Office is fairly comical.

It causes me to wonder if there’s not a better way to go about this whole democracy thing. As some contributors of our book, “Split Ticket,” on faith and politics posited, it could be argued that voting in our present democratic system is actually an act of violence. Not violence in the typical blood-and-gore sense so much, but our democracy serves to silence the voice of nearly half the population, rendering their vote impotent if they can’t secure a majority.

But what about local elections? Yes, we’re dealing with smaller numbers and, in some cases, party affiliations and ideologies that might not capture the imagination of the international stage. But still, the minority gets nothing, while those in the majority take it all. Violence is violence, no matter the scale.

So what’s the solution? I wonder about parliamentary systems like those emerging in the Middle East. In those, there may be half a dozen political voices represented, each proportionate to the amount of the vote they secured. Does it make for some controlled chaos and intense friction in the legislative process? I’m sure it does, but can anyone really point to our present system and suggest it’s faring much better? It seems to me we’re at least as paralyzed with only two parties in charge.

I know there’s plenty at play when it comes to our cultural divide in the West. Our custom-built news and media environments allow us to surround ourselves with information that props up our existing ideals and biases, while largely ignoring opposing viewpoints. The politics of character assassination, while decried by all, still proves effective in nearly every case, and therefore, even those who speak of negative campaigning with contempt continue to employ it for their own personal gain.

And on and on it goes. But I can’t help but wonder if part of the visceral bitterness at the heart of our cultural discourse comes from an environment in which people don’t actually feel heard and duly represented. After all, if you put me in a room with a bunch of big muscly guys who say I only get to participate if I can beat them at arm wrestling, I’m likely to complain that the system is inherently stacked against me. In fact, so are all the big, muscly guys hwo happen to lose in their respective sparring matches. It’s only those who win that are content, at least for now with the present system. And ironically, they are the only ones with the power to change how it all works.

Can it ever change? Is it possible that ours might evolve into a more truly representative, more plural democracy? Anything is possible, I suppose, but the prospects for such change that requires those in power to accede a significant amount of their own authority depends on a kind of vision and altruism that I’d argue we haven’t seen in American politics since the days when it was just being conceived.


"goodness, some pple shld just learn not to speak at all"

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Wouldn’t it be nice if all the parties were to elect their representative for government office and then they had to work together in office? What kind of nation would we have then?

  • Linda_Brendle

    i think the fact that the campaigns go on for so long and the fact that so many people are not involved in the entire political process but just in that one vote for president increases the feeling that if your candidate doesn’t win you get nothing. if the campaigns were reined back and became simply a choice of who would moderate the entire process with its many senators, representatives, judges, and checks and balances, we would get more of a feeling of working together for the good of all concerned. And if people got more involved in government at the grass roots level where their voice can really be heard, I believe there would be less feeling of disenfranchisement regardless of which candidate ultimately sits in the oval office.

    • Paul Freeman

      My brother-in-law is from New Zealand. He has stated that our campaign for presidential office, particularly is just too long. Thinks it should be cut down to about 5 months and be done with it.

      I have to agree with him. Running for office now requires you to start campaigning as much as 16 months prior to the year of primaries and general election. Think of the savings we’d have if it was cut down to just 5 months, plus all these corporations could focus on paying their employees a decent wage!!!

  • kristen inDallas

    Love your take on this. Jst a few tag on points:
    “It simply means that at least fifty percent plus one of that population voted the same way.” It’s actually usually worse than that. It might only be forty percent of the population, if that forty percent lives in the right part of the state. Here in TX the major cities usually swing blue, so I wind up getting the impression that not only does my vote not count (I’m not generally blue or red), but my district’s collective vote doesn’t really count much either.

    “our democracy serves to silence the voice of nearly half the population, rendering their vote impotent if they can’t secure a majority.” …not to mention the silence of the vast majority who have given up on voting alltogether.
    I need to go read your second to last paragraph again. It’s brilliant.

  • beth

    first, the US is a Constitutional REPUBLIC, not a democracy. second, if the elections were only tied to the popular vote, then only the large cities would decide who gets into office. third, why is it that you progressives always cry “violence” when you don’t like something? fourth, the founding fathers wanted the STATES to have a voice too as they are considered little countries in and of themselves (hence, they’re not called provinces). so, w/ the electoral college, each state gets three votes minimum: two for the STATE so it can have its own choice and one for the population. any additional vote is based on population. this is why the EC vote and the popular vote can differ.

    right now, we’re divided just about 50/50 b/c of the hostile nature of the left. you guys demonize the right. in addition, when the right tries to make things fair (such as requiring PICTURE IDs to vote—which DOES minimize voter fraud), you people pitch a tantrum and say it’s voter suppression (which you know is complete BALDERDASH).

    before you write about politics and our system, please do your homework. this article is not very well researched.

    • Christian Piatt

      Maybe you should ask “You People” to do the research, whoever that is.

    • beth is right. Our country is a Constitutional Republic, not a democracy.

  • Paul Freeman

    Your commentary here brings up the good point that after every election one or the other winner claims that they have been given the right to do what they promised to do as the nation voted for us to do so.

    NOO! that’s not the case, there are other of us in the minority who didn’t agree to that, it just means you have a ticket to discuss it, not to ram it down our throats.

  • olau76

    Moving to a parliamentary/proportional representation system would not be difficult but I just don’t think we have the will or a good understanding of the system to do it. We live in a majority rules society even if that majority is tiny. One solution is NY State’s fusion voting system where 3rd parties endorse a major party candidate and you can vote on that line. It’s an oaky compromise but I actually think our democracy would be strengthened if more voices were represented in our legislatures at all levels of government.

  • nanbush

    At least in a parliamentarian system they have to talk to each other. Would be nice not to have any side flat-out refuse to work with another.