“Italian Sausage Party”
All is not quiet on the Western front. Over half of Italian voters cast their ballots for a far-right or populist candidate yesterday. Once again the driving factor seems to be a resentful reaction to the influx of immigrants. There appear to be several discomfiting conclusions one can draw from European politics right now:
1) The vote for our own President is beginning to look less like a special moral failure of voters as Americans and more like a human failure of voters as members of the animal kingdom. If one sees an individual child’s test score and he or she only scores a 53 out of 100, one might be tempted to conclude that said child must be unusually stupid or a bad student. But if one sees another child’s test with a score of 56 and another child’s test with a score of 45, what once looked like a frighteningly poor score suddenly doesn’t seem so much a damning reflection of the first child. If the highest score one sees from the whole class is a 70, one can conclude with some confidence that there is probably a bigger problem than any one child’s failings. There is likely to be some combination of: a) an unreasonably test, b) an incompetent teacher unable to hold a classroom’s attention well enough to prepare students, and c) an inappropriately advanced or complicated class pedagogy or subject matter for the class’ preexisting skill set and knowledge base. As the trend keeps repeating itself around the world, an increasingly insistent question seems to keep rearing its unwelcome head: Are we being entirely fair to each other and ourselves? What would would the answer mean for next steps?
2) As depressing a statement as it is on modern human empathy, it seems long past time to acknowledge that the introduction of diversity appears to be one of democracy’s critical and increasingly predictable weak points. Democracies around the world seem to work just fine for a relatively homogeneous body politic. Theoretically, democracies *can* work for a heterogeneous body politic that’s been heterogeneous for a long time and has some functional momentum under it. But based on what we’re seeing around the world, it’s unclear whether civilized humanity has figured out an adequately stabilizing answer to the transition from relative homogeneity to heterogeneity, at least in terms of political and cultural franchise. Diversification ultimately needs to happen because, as a function of inalienable rights, people morally *must* be free to live, enjoy liberty, and pursue happiness on their terms. Furthermore, if the political actions, economic activity and/or military adventures of allied nations destabilize a neighboring people’s government and nation, it is an unreasonably absurd infringement on inalienable rights to expect people to remain in a land that is no longer safe or stable enough for them or their families to remain, at least not under a credible presumption of recognized rights to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. You can’t simultaneously be a part of a system that sinks the boats of others and then resent survivors for swimming towards your craft for refuge. To do so would be to tacitly ask people to voluntarily drown. Everyone has the right to exist; it’s an appalling reflection of our times that such phrases even need to be said. Inalienable rights do not have borders or boundaries beyond the encroachment points for the inalienable rights of others. But what happens when intuitive moral imperatives meet animalistic responses to stimuli, particularly territoriality? Without a satisfying response to the transition and ensuing diversification of a citizenry, it seems probable that fascism and authoritarianism masked as populism are likely to continue being perceived as less threatening to significant swaths of preexisting majorities than the diminished political and cultural franchise that comes with no longer being the overwhelmingly dominant majority.
3) Democracy in its current form may in fact be conceptually at odds with the basic constitutional mission “to establish justice”. Justice is required to maintain good faith in a civil society. Justice is required to help resolve disputes in a dispassionate manner using due process and widespread acceptance of rule of law. But for all our talk of justice, recent events and political platforms beg the question: “what is “justice” really?” I have a textbook definition, “a legal or philosophical theory by which fairness is administered”. But who decides what’s fair? And how? Our own constitution has proven open to wildly varying degrees of interpretation. Compounding our troubles, only one branch of our government is remotely concerned with seeking fairness and is authorized to prioritize it over political considerations. The other two branches are inherently political and thus subject to the whims of the people. At best only a third of our government is concerned with justice, and even that third is proving itself corruptible by partisanship. Italy’s election and our own presidential election proves that if enough people back unjust ideas, injustice itself can be imbued with political legitimacy through populism, “the will of the people”, which is really the will of the majority, however intellectually or morally dubious that majority’s will may be. The popular support and tolerance for slavery during American antebellum further affirms that democracy can imbue injustice with political legitimacy. If one of the cornerstone reasons for establishing a democratic republic is to establish justice, but the administration of justice is largely contingent on the will of often unjust, animalistic people prone to territorial responses, then what exactly are we doing here with this form of government in its present form? Are we kidding ourselves?
How long can the justice needed to sustain democracy survive when the people vote for injustice? How long can democracy survive when the people commit to voting for anti-democratic politicians? I hope we score better in answering the next round of questioning than Italy just did.