Do we still have a functioning democracy?
Because when I look around at the mess we’ve got here today, I honestly don’t know.
I went to my polling place to vote, and it was nearly deserted.
The candidates’ signs were still there, stuck in the ground like some kind of seasonal weed in need of a gardener.
But there were no people.
Well there was one nice lady sitting on a bench who smiled and handed me a flier from the county Democratic committee.
When I got inside, the poll workers were as cheerful and friendly as ever. I’ve known these ladies since I was a little kid. They remember when I worked at the local newspaper and could probably recite some elements of my resume better than I can.
They made polite conversation asking about my parents and grandparents as they looked up my information and geared up the machine to take my ballot.
There was something almost frightening about the whole thing. It was both familiar and tainted – kind of like returning to the scene of some grisly murder.
Just a year ago, this was where we knowingly voted for Donald J. Trump to be President of the United States.
When I say “we” I don’t mean me.
And when the whole thing was done last year, I had terrible chest pains that sent me to my doctor and then the hospital with my first-ever heart attack.
That election literally sent me to the ICU.
And yet today here I was standing on my own two feet getting ready to do it all over again.
I stood there staring at the choices on the machine, looking at my helpful Democratic flier and even referring to an email on my phone from my union.
“Why is the union recommending a bunch of Republicans?” I thought.
“Their chosen candidates want to dismantle the very institution recommending I vote for them!”
And then I looked at the list of Democrats. I didn’t know any of them.
Some of their names were familiar from hastily aired campaign ads that told me a folksy story about their families or education or how they’d never called off a day in their lives – but nothing about their beliefs, their values, even their politics.
How am I supposed to choose between these people?
I thought about just voting for the Green candidates but there was a whole one to choose from in only one race.
So I ended up voting for the Democrats. At least I have some nominal idea where they stand.
And I have to admit when it was all over and I pressed “VOTE,” I felt really good.
The machine made that metallic buzz like it was tabulating my ballot, and I felt like I had really accomplished something.
Then I went out into the nearly deserted parking lot and got hit by a wave of depression.
“What the fuck just happened?” I asked myself.
And I answered, “You got played, son.”
Trump is still President. And he’ll be President tomorrow and probably tomorrow and tomorrow.
And even if he was magically ushered from the scene, there’s another nearly identical Republican ideologue waiting to take his place. And another to take his. And another…
Meanwhile, the Democrats are little more than a steaming crater in the ground. They hold fewer political offices than they have at any point in my lifetime. And it doesn’t appear like that will change anytime soon.
We just had a grassroots, people-powered revolution demanding American politics move back to the left. We had a popular progressive candidate overflowing huge stadiums, an influx of young people committed to fighting against intersectional issues like racism, sexism and class warfare. And it was crushed by the Democratic nominee who coopted the process and the party with big money.
Maybe we were all just incredibly naive. I mean how can you get money out of politics when the system is already corrupted by money?
Laws aren’t made by consensus anymore. They’re made because lawmakers get paid.
And lawmakers aren’t elected because people vote for them. They’re elected because they have big money behind them – because these are the people the donors want to offer the rest of us as a choice. And no one else. Republicans and Democrats picked by the same oligarchs to make it look like us, plebeians, have a choice.
Occasionally an outlier sneaks in, but that’s rare, and the plutocrats – the real owners of this country – spend hundreds of millions of dollars to stop them.
So what do we do? Strengthen a weak and disorganized third party? Even under the best of circumstances, that would take decades. In the meantime, the environment would be destroyed, millions would have died in unnecessary wars and what little majority rule we have would have inevitably been repealed long ago.
I wish I had some more optimistic note on which to end. But I don’t.
All I have is this question: Do we still have a functioning Democracy?
And I put it out there in the real hope that readers will consider it deeply.
No kneejerk reactions. No received wisdom from this pundit or that anchor or that party hack.
It’s a question we all have to answer – and soon.
Because if the answer is “no,” what the heck can we even do about it?