A Split Democracy
By Todd Madson
I was in DC on January 20th of 2009 to watch the candidate I voted for take to the podium and accept the responsibility for the most powerful office among any nation. Walking to the National Mall that morning with the deluge of optimistic voters was a sentimental realization that not only had we, as a majority, voted for the first black President of the United States but that we had also survived the incumbent whom he was soon to displace. The energy in Washington that day was in every sense of the word palpable. I literally felt the collective heartbeats of millions of Americans as we stood on the lawn waiting for a single individual to come and change what living in America would now mean. Every face ran a mixture of excitement and bewilderment, of hope and rejoice. The cheers and chorus from so many voices reverberated through the crowd and made angelic sounds that deafened you from any attempts at conversation.
This was victory for our party’s candidate.
This was enduring a president that did not represent us.
This was putting an end to feeling embarrassed the world around.
This was observance of the goodness in people that we were moving towards becoming a nation of tolerance.
This was democracy at its best.
It is a memory I recall when I am feeling discouraged by the actions and discourse in our political system and when I need reminding of what epochal feats can be waiting for us every four years. And we can find some solace in casting a vote for what we think is right for our country because it is the most powerful commission a citizen is entitled. And you can have pride in being a responsible party to society, just as I was proud of my actions, having voted for Barack Obama in both elections, not only because I felt he was the best candidate to represent me but also because he was the best candidate to lead America into the country it needed to continue progressing toward.
Yes we did.
When I cast my vote for Hillary Clinton, I was supporting those values and representing the best of what America stands for. I was enchanted with her dedication to civil service and human rights. I applauded her commitment to social progress which was evident in her evolving beliefs and policies as well as her commitment to personal progress by making another attempt at the presidency. She represents an intellect that we should aspire to all reach, and a thoughtfulness and caring for people at home and around the world that is inspirational. She has been vetted and raked through the coals for more than 30 years and there is a resilience to criticism and mudslinging that is admirable and borders on the incomprehensible . She has held positions of public office that not only gave her credibility for the position but experiences that few others could be imagined handling as professionally and effectually. She was the architect for healthcare reform during the 42nd presidency (an achievement even if it didn’t pass). She was the Senator of New York through 9/11, and the Secretary of State during the Arab Spring. And throughout her entire career has lauded for women and childrens rights. I gave real consideration when I chose my candidate and cast my ballot. And I was thrilled to do so for Hillary Clinton.
I do believe that for most of those that voted for Trump, they were feeling the same way I did this week and eight years ago. They voted this week knowing that it is the responsibility of this republic to cast their ballot and stand up for their values. And when the scores of disenfranchised and forgotten white working class take to the National Mall this January to usher in this new louche system of government that remembers their values and will work to bring their country towards a utopia they remember and have longed for, there will be genuine jubilation and excitement for the victory of their party’s candidate. For having a president that will champion their beliefs. For having endured a president that didn’t represent them. For feeling embarrassed on a global level. This was democracy at its best.
And on the surface of this week’s outcome (and through a very, very narrowed lens) I want to feel admiration towards our political system having worked the way it was supposed to. The people spoke and the party won. It didn’t represent everyone, but it represented a major part of the country. And it balances out the agendas that each party has when there are competing issues and desired resolutions. It’s hard being part of the losing party and not feeling hurt. Feeling that your values are not favored in your own country. That is a messy set of emotions to wrestle through. But it’s the democratic system. And if you believe in it, you accept it, and you move on continuing to voice your opinion and vote another day. Even as painful and challenging as democracy is when you have the opinions, hopes and dreams of 320 million people that battle and resolve to work together in an effort to continue a functional society. I want to feel that we made democracy work.
But I cannot.
And your party does not get to either.
What this party and their campaign stood for and represented was the bombastic refutation of deference to civil rights, tolerance, and basic human decency. It was the blatant disregard of accepted sciences at a level of blissful ignorance and arrogance that will have lasting effects clearly beyond the party’s intellectual capacity. This was not a political party that was thoughtfully identifying the problems of this country; providing healthcare to its citizens, securing financial solvency or understanding and respecting sovereign countries’ rights around the world.
No matter how much they argue differently.
A democracy has to have equal rights to all people. All people have to be protected under those rights and laws. The constitution lays out a framework for how the United States seeks to achieve that ideal democracy, but it is not perfect and it is not complete. If it were, there would be no need for the 13th, 14th, 15th or 19th amendments or any of the 17 amendments for that matter that were not originally ratified in 1791. And that is the beautiful part of our political system. That we have a living document that allows for new conventional wisdom and ideals to be put into law. All while serving and being responsible towards the ultimate goal of being a democracy. What happened this week that hurts so much is that we voted in a party that seeks to willfully enact laws that are antithetical to the ideals of democracy.
And they will.
There is a list of reasons several pages long that thoughtful and intelligent people are deservedly inbounds to suggest that the elected party should have no expectations of cooperation. You don’t get to repeal Obamacare and take away access to healthcare for 20 million people (let me repeat that, 20 million people) without an alternative plan or model and say that you take this matter seriously. You don’t get to claim global warming was a hoax developed by the Chinese and get taken seriously. You don’t get to call Mexicans rapists, Muslims terrorists, blacks as living in hell holes of America, and racially profiling the President of the United States by starting the birther movement and say that you are a tolerant party. You don’t get to incite violence, make derogatory comments of gender, race and religion, verbally and sexually assault women and claim that you demonstrate good temperament and exercise good judgement.
And that is the fundamental difference of the two parties that voted this week. The Clinton supporters were not solely voting for this iconic, stoic woman that had every qualification to be President of the United States. They were voting for diversity and inclusion. They were voting for an America that celebrated all people and of a democracy made up of different races, religions and of gender equality. An America that kept its borders open to immigration because diversity makes us better, not weaker. They were voting for the use of data and scientific modeling to make the best, most informed decisions, not denounce it. And yes, they were voting for the rights of those that rallied around Donald Trump and his message of exclusion and hate. Those individuals have the same rights as the Clinton supporters, and it was the Clinton voters that acknowledge that basic democratic principle — that all people have equal rights in a democracy, even those they disagree with.
People can balk that not everyone voting for Trump fits his mold of bigotry, misogyny and general disregard for human rights. You can argue instead that you voted to support lower taxes and a different version of healthcare legislation. But you do not get to separate those vile components that make up his platform. A vote for Trump was not a fractional vote for just the parts you wanted. It was a vote for everything he stood for and will do when in the office.
All of it.
And you have to own that.
I am not able to find the rationale for those that vehemently reject women in any role that has power or that looks at a person of color and is able to not only classify that individual but also label inferior or less qualified without measure. I certainly cannot understand the hypocrisy that comes with the religious right that seeks to denounce other religions as fallacies and criticizes them for scripture of hatred and then supports a candidate to lead their nation that does not represent the values and virtues to which they supposedly subscribe. But that is the level of tolerance and intellect that we are now going to have to deal with that sits in the executive branch. And that is the population that feels represented.
We have to deal with that.
People can take refuge knowing that Donald Trump does not represent the majority of Americans. His campaign of misogyny, racism, sexism, xenophobic rants and lies were not the popular vote. He received a lot of votes, that is a frighteningly real fact. But he did not receive the majority of the votes. And the electoral college, an archaic and flawed system (admitted by its own designer, Alexander Hamilton), has allowed yet again the candidate that did not receive the majority vote in to the White House. But disregard the electoral college and what it has done. Where I struggle the most with the outcome of this vote is that I believe in democracy and yet the Trump vote and what he brings into office is not democracy. He brings unequal rights and protections to people within their own republic. We have split democracy apart by voting for its own demise. With nervousness and trepidation, I find hope that the system of checks and balances will prohibit radical changes to American freedoms. But the cynic in me does look at the horizon and see a congress completely controlled by the republicans and a judicial system about to have a conservative majority. There is a vast divide between Trumpism democracy and the traditional conservative democracy, but the recent acceptance of Trumpism has shown how spineless and fickle their values can truly be.
We must never.
The outcome, in an uncomfortable way, should be applauded by both sides because it is a hallmark to our democracy. This is freedom of speech in its most raw and difficult form. You don’t want to hear what I have to say, well I’m going to cast my equally-weighted ballot and there is nothing that can be done about it. That is difficult to grapple with, especially for this election. Because in this election there is legitimate and reasonable fear that certain rights of the people will be policed and restricted. Stop and frisk. Censoring the news. Illegal search and seizure of mosques. Punishment to women for making decisions affecting their health. Deportation of millions.
They will not.
But we get to do something about it. We get to continue to challenge and audit the human decency of our elected officials. Through our currently unrestricted voices and protests, we can organize and outvote the discord we have in this country in the next election. We get to let it be known that we will no longer tolerate the white activist groups like the KKK, the women hating voters that seek to have control over a woman’s body and the choices they are allowed to make, those that would outlaw love based on sexual preference, the frightened white male who feels his country is being taken from him and seeks to deport non white immigrants and block all others from entering into America — these groups are deserving of protest and civic unrest. We get to tell Donald Trump and his cabinet of deplorables that they do not represent the vast majority of Americans and we will fight him every step of the way when our rights are challenged.
You should. Always.
Admittedly, I did not challenge his candidacy the way I wish I had now. I did not get active in the election and work to educate and communicate the importance of the issues at hand. I am disappointed in the outcome and knowing there was more I could have done. And that’s when I find the beauty and hope in our democratic system again. That in two years’ time, I will have the opportunity to impact the midterm elections and vote candidates back in that represent the values that I espouse. That in just four short years I can be a part of democracy that fights to challenge a man that represents the worst of who we are and vote him out of office. And I look forward to marching on the National Mall in January of 2021 in excitement and relief to be ushering in a new president that represents the ideals and values of the American people again and pick up from where we are leaving off.
Yes we can.