In an interesting article in this month’s Empirical magazine, Randall Auxier, a philosophy professor at Southern Illinois University has a provocative suggestion to make about increasing voter participation in this country which, as we all know, is something of an embarrassment. In his article about the “Death and Resurrection of Democratic Institutions” he suggests that there should be a box on each ballot sheet next to the list of candidates for public office giving the voter the option to vote for “none of the above.” In this way, disenchanted voters would have the opportunity to express their displeasure about the candidates listed and in some cases the office might even become vacant. This would not only increase voter participation, it might help clean out some of the dead wood occupying space in our political offices!
Auxier, taking a page from Richard Rorty, is convinced that our democracy is on life support. It suffers from a variety of maladies, including voter apathy, but due most recently to the fear of impending terrorist attacks, not to mention the increasing wealth of a small number of individuals in the country who are in the position to determine political outcomes. I would add that the government is dysfunctional to the degree that compromise at the Federal level, which is the life-breath of any thriving democratic system, no longer appears possible.
But the most recent threat to our democratic way of life, as Auxier points out, is the so-called “war on terror,” which is not a war at all but which has instilled in the population a creeping paranoia and a willingness to turn over the reins of power to the military. This has always been the case with a great many Republicans, of course, but it now appears to be the case with our President and a growing number of Democrats in the Congress as well — as I have noted in a previous blog.
Whatever the causes might be, I think we can agree that the Republic for which we stand today is a far cry from the ideal created by the founders over two hundred years ago. To an extent that was inevitable, because it was impossible for them to predict the future — they did not see the growing power and influence of corporations, for example. But also, the disparity between what our founders hoped to create and today’s reality has been greatly enlarged by the fear we have all felt since the attacks on 9/11 and the subsequent fear-mongering on the part of the politicians (and the weapons-manufacturers who help get them elected) who have learned that a fearful population is one that is much easier to control.
Many of us can recall F.D.R’s famous comment during his first inaugural address, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Auxier makes a strong case out for the fact that the fear we are all experiencing in what we insist on calling the “war on terror” is destructive of democracy itself. As he puts it, “We need to open borders and start trusting one another again. Terrorists are not killing democracy, unreasonable fear and its anti-democratic practices are killing democracy. Have the courage to bequeath to your children a world fit to live in, psychologically, and you will teach them that over-reactions of the late 20th century are a lesson in what not to do when threatened. We don’t mean to, but we are creating whole new generations of human beings whose ethos and expectations are closer to the police state than the democratic world our parents gave to us.”
These strike me as wise words and ones worth pondering as we seek to maintain our balance and remain calm while many around us continue to promote fear by exaggerating serious threats and making remote possibilities seem much nearer than they are. Perhaps this way we can keep our democracy on life-support a while longer.