Our Democracy Stress Test
We survived the moment, but we haven’t dealt with major health issues
For many of us in our physical and mental health after years of living on this planet and the miles we have put on our bodies, we believe we are relatively healthy. We may have aches and pains, or a slight sickness every now and then, but we feel like we are doing ok. As we get older, we recognize that this “feeling” may not be a true indicator of our health, especially our cardiac system. So we put ourselves through what is called a stress test.
This stress test is done so we can see how our heart and body is doing under vigorous exercise. At times we discover some underlying problem that we were unaware of before we took the stress test. And we realize we weren’t as healthy as we thought, and that we have some serious issues that must be dealt with.
For the last five years, our country and our democracy has been put through a stress test. Even though we as a constitutional democratic republic have 240 years under our belt and many miles on our body politic, we thought we were relatively healthy with the predictable aches and pains and minor illnesses. However, we discovered in the aftermath of this current stress test that we have some serious underlying problems that shows us our democracy is unhealthy and needs serious care. We have found out that we have been suffering from heart disease which has done great damage to important organs and parts of our body politic.
The election of Donald Trump in 2016 and it’s aftermath including the insurrection on January 6 2021 as well as a global pandemic were the ultimate political stress test. And this has revealed some serious underlying problems of our democracy. Yes, we have so far survived this stress test, but we haven’t as of yet dealt with the underlying conditions that are making us less functional and not allowing us to do the basic things we should be doing. The solutions thus far have only dealt with the symptoms showing up in the stress test and haven’t solved the heart disease at the core of our ill health. It is like giving someone an aspirin to solve headaches or a fever, or telling someone to lay down for a while, and not solving the internal problems really at the core.
There are many underlying conditions that got us here and I will just focus on three that have put us in the situation where the results of the stress test reveal some fundamental health concerns of our democracy.
First, over the last few decades, because of certain cable outlets, talk radio, and the internet, lies, conspiracy theories, hate, and dangerous propaganda has been allowed to grow and foster in a significant portion of our citizenry. This has created an inability of our country to have different opinions on issues but sharing a common set of facts. And unfortunately this has infected the vast majority of one of our two major political parties. GOP primary voters today believe the election was stolen, don’t believe in science, don’t think climate change is real, and question the views of medical and scientific professionals who discount their conspiracy viewpoints.
Second, because of the above information channels, and the tone in which they broadcast and communicate, it has created among this same group a sense of grievance and fear, which has caused some to turn towards hate, and in some cases violence, over what they feel they are “losing” in this moment. As we have lost a common set of facts, we are also losing the idea of the common good. Yes, in many instances this is tied to race, and as America has become more multiracial and multicultural, the seeds of racial animosity in our soil has been watered and fertilized by this racial grievance in such a way that white nationalistic domestic terrorism is the gravest threat within our country today.
Third, the structures of our elections exacerbated by polarization has allowed America to have a very difficult time having a system that is representative of the majority of the public. Because of radical partisan gerrymandering, the U.S. House is no longer truly representative. Because of sorting out and movements of the country, the U.S. Senate is in such a place where 6 U.S. Senators today represent more population than the populations represented by 60 U.S. Senators. And because of the electoral college, we now have the likelihood (and it has has happened twice in the last two decades) that a President is elected while losing the popular vote.
Until we deal with these three important tumors or viruses (and there are others as well), it is going to be very unlikely that we have a truly functioning and healthy democracy that can survive through middle age in the years ahead. I am hopeful that we can come together in this 21st century and reinvigorate our body politic, but it is going to first take an acknowledgement that we failed this stress test and we need to address the fundamental health concerns if we the people will be able to continue to form a more perfect union where we are all created equal and have an equal say in the direction we go.