“Democracy is four wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch.” —Ambrose Bierce, 1842–1914
This week, Republican Minnesota State Representatives Steve Drazkowski and Tim Miller, on the floor of the state House of Representatives, tried to make their case against trans kids by comparing their gender identities to furries. They repeated the completely false rumor that because school districts allow children to identify as they wish, some are identifying as cats and shitting on their classroom floors when litter boxes aren’t provided for them, a lie told just last month by Republican Nebraska State Representative Bruce Bostelman.
When our leaders start attacking children like this, start attacking voting rights like in Texas or Georgia, start attacking individual rights like in Texas or Oklahoma, or completely ignore the danger of climate change, it proves that Democracy doesn’t work. In fact, it’s killing us and the planet.
Socrates, one of the fathers of Democracy, said the same thing two and a half thousand years ago. While Democracy gives voice to all the people living under a government, his fear was that people would separate Democracy from wisdom, and his fear was valid. Within his own lifetime, Athens tried him for the crime of making the young people think (or as they put it “corrupting the youth”) and a jury of 500 voted on whether or not he was guilty. Two-hundred and sixty people voted him guilty while the other 240 said he was innocent. Majority ruled and Democracy, the system he helped create, killed one of the greatest thinkers in human history. He died by drinking hemlock.
Two-thousand four-hundred and twenty-one years later, the United States of America stands as the strongest country in the world as a Democratic Republic even though sitting Congressmen and Congresswomen fight against climate change, life-saving vaccines during a pandemic, and screaming about how the Constitution gives them the right to free speech while they openly attempt to overthrow that same Constitution.
Not only has Socrates and Plato’s fear of wisdom separated from our Democracy come true, but something worse has happened. The American form of Democracy has finally weaponized stupidity. It’s no secret that if a party wants to turn out uninformed, ignorant, or just plain dumb voters of their party during an election, all they need to do is outrage them. Republicans expect record turnouts during this coming midterm election because their recent abortion bans, their claim of a stolen election, and their COVID-related bills and policies.
On the other side of the coin, these same types of voters show up to the polls because they want simple and easy solutions to complex problems. In 2016, Trump took the stage and worked the Red States into a frenzy, telling them how the US is a laughingstock on the international stage. He said terrorism, a poor economy, and attacks on police officers are threatening the American way of life. Then, without giving any semblance of a plan, he simply told his followers, “I alone can fix it.” This is the definition of demagoguery, the death nail of Democracy.
For generations, politicians have manipulated the outrage of puerile people to stay in power and make millions; but after Trump, those same people realized they didn’t need to support politicians who wanted to get rich and achieve power at the detriment of the planet, they realized that they too could get rich and achieve power themselves. Jonathan Swift was wrong when he said, “When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him.” In reality, all the confederacy of dunces needed was the biggest dunce of all achieving the highest office.
Socrates said that there should be a competency test before someone could vote or run for office. It doesn’t sound too objectionable to make sure someone is qualified for the job before we hire them, right? I would ask if you’d go to a doctor who didn’t go to medical school, but the people I’m trying to persuade would. They took horse deworming drugs instead of a free vaccine.
If we had a competency test, I doubt Trump could have named one Supreme Court Decision (other than Roe v Wade), five past presidents, or the three branches of government. I know we wouldn’t have had to deal with Colorado Representative Lauren Boebert. She famously tweeted, “The Constitution is not evolving. To say that spits in the face of every single one of our founders.” Even my thirteen-year-old daughter could tell you that the Founding Fathers wrote the Bill of Rights which is a list of Amendments in order to show the world that the Constitution has, will, and should change with our country. And, of course, there is the “Gazpacho police” or “Jewish Space Lasers” comments from Georgia Representative Marjorie Taylor-Greene. I was going to list more but it just seems like low-hanging fruit at this point.
Socrates also said that if we want to keep Democracy from failing, we need our elected leaders to set aside all other trade. We should limit their ability to make money from their position while they’re in office.
Speaking of our Founding Fathers, they held the idea that the US Congress would be made up of people who represented their constituents. They would be just like anyone else, but today while only 4% of the population of the US are millionaires, 51% of elected officials in Congress are worth at least $1 million dollars. This is a fact despite the average salary of a US senator being $174,000 a year.
This brings me to one of the freshman class of this new Confederacy of Dunces. Madison Cawthorn, Representative from North Carolina, was so blatant with his insider trading (with a crypto currency named “Let’s Go Brandon” a code spawned from a chant by drunken NASCAR fans that means “Fuck Joe Biden”) that his fellow Republican and senior senator from his home state is calling for his removal from Congress.
As someone who was sent by our government to defend, kill for, and almost die for Democracy, I hope my words have some weight. I truly believed in this system of government, but it’s not working anymore. We would rather listen to inexperienced fools telling us, “There’s nothing to worry about,” than sacrifice some comfort and do the work to solve the problems that are killing us and this planet.
Am I saying to tear the whole political system down? No. I’m simply suggesting that we quit letting dunces stop us from solving major problems like climate change. I’m saying to stop electing people who are famous for their looks or fortunes to positions expected to solve complicated problems. If we want to survive as a country—shit, as a species—we need to make changes. If we don’t, we might as well drink the Hemlock Kool-Aid.