History is the autobiography of a mad man – Alexander Herzern’
One of the hardest yet most interesting times in my life was my first year in teaching. I was thrown into a high school in Baltimore County where I was to teach mainly 9th grade government. Boring 14-15 year olds with a process they are far too young to participate in, let alone have me or any teacher walk a tight rope of how the American governmental system works in theory, while almost working in direct contrast in practice is not something I would wish on anyone but I did my best and I ended up not doing that bad.
One of the most memorable moments is when I was teaching about what democracy really means, and how it works (or doesn’t) in countries like North Korea and Iran and why it inevitably is the most preferred method of governance. We’ve all been taught this in school at some point or another? Communism/autocracy is bad and democracy/freedom is good right? However, some of my students weren’t buying it. This was in 2012 and despite being young many of my students (most of whom were liberal) were firmly against Mitt Romney becoming president. While the media may have teased about his faux pas like his “binders full of women” flub or his “48%” remark, for some students these were reasons enough to not support him. Even more, this was the year that rape faux pas like “rape is a gift from God” and “legitimate rape” coming from the mouths of some doomed senatorial want to be’s. My students also weren’t okay with the president’s drone attacks, the grid lock in congress, and other things that I didn’t bat an eye at, at that age. Many would were confounded of how candidates right, left, or center found their way into public office, or even got close to it. It all came back to voting. “Mr. Donnelly, why do we let stupid people vote?” I would be asked. “Yeah, won’t it hurt the country if enough of them do it?” Another chimed in. I stumbled for a moment and said well… that’s why you’re in this class…. to uh… understand the system, so you’ll be an educated voter. Of course that was a lie for several reasons. 1. It’s not an issue class or a debate class 2. Again, it’s how American government works on paper, not in the battlefield. 3. It doesn’t stop “stupid people” from voting now but hopes for a better voting block in 4 years.
Fast forward 4 years and we’ve come to a peak with stupid people voting, with Donald Trump having a real chance at becoming the GOP nominee. Oh what I would give to teach government now. I would just keep on the news for the whole class, since it gives great insight on how undemocratic our process is with super delegates, unbound delegates, open voting, closed voting, how just because you win a state, doesn’t mean you won the most delegates.
But perhaps this is what we deserve. The founding fathers, no matter what their ideological persuasion would all be rolling if they could see the dunce winning the nominee of the party of Jefferson. Of course they’d also roll in their grave to see a black guy as president, and a woman who most likely will take is place…but I digress.
When the founders were drafting the Constitution, there was lots of speculation of what type of government would form. Some thought a new monarchy would form, others thought the states would remain autonomous. A favorite story of mine is of Benjamin Franklin, who had to have men watch him at night because he would drink copious amount of alcohol and begin to talk about things that he shouldn’t have. Since the machinations of what specifically was going on were top secret, his peers knew he couldn’t be trusted to blab about everything they’ve been working on for so long. However, one woman asked him whether or not they are creating a monarchy or a democracy, and he did slip up a big and responded with “A republic ma’am, if you can keep it”
A republic, not a straight democracy. Electing people who knew what they were doing to make the decisions for the populace. The founders were petrified of a democracy. They were all aristocrats by either birth or merit and detested much of what the “riff raff” citizenry did. They thought governance was best left up to the educated. Many institutional blockers were put in place to make sure that even if you wanted to vote they couldn’t. First off you have to be a white guy, and you have to be at least 25, and you have to own a certain amount of property. This was the fewest amount of obstacles one had to hurdle to vote, in Georgia for example the only people that could vote for president were those elected to the state government; a body of about 23 men. Since most of the country were farmers, why burden them with learning about the issues at hand and educating them in some democratic process? If they spent their time doing that who would grow the food?
If America stayed east of the Appalachian mountains, this may have been the trend for much longer. But when Americans moved further and further west, there were no educated and well groomed delegations to cast ballots. Just dirt farmers and settlers. So under Jackson, universal white male suffrage was made and now every white guy who wandered into a polling station could cast a ballot. Things continued from there. Eventually African Americans, women, and 18 year olds could cast a ballot. Hell, now when you get your licensed renewed at the DMV you can register to vote in just a couple minutes. We’ve stream lined the process, even making an amendment so that we can vote for senators too, since before it was strictly the state representatives who voted.
Of course this has become a process that has had many fits and starts, and sometimes we owe our greatest progression to things that are not democratic at all. Slavery was technically ended by democracy…but only have 600,000 people died. The integration of the army was an extremely unpopular executive order by Truman, the integration of schools had to be made by a small judicial body, and enforced by the army, gay marriage was in the same boat…minus the army. In some states, if you made the right campaign and left it up to a straight vote by the population, decades of change would be erased.
These of course are all American examples. If I really wanted to I could get in to how the Nazi’s came to power because of democracy, and the Russian communist party, not to mention the powers that led the Rwandan genocide were democratic…but this post is already long enough.
And now… we’ve come to 2016. Even thing has led to a man, who says nothing substantive in every speech is going to become the nominee of a major party. I don’t know if this is a failure of the part of the Republican Party or if so many people are just blind with rage of being duped again and again by “career politicians” And what do you do about it? No one wants to go back to the days of poll taxes, or literacy qualifications. In theory you want as many people as possible to vote, and so many obstacles have been put in place to deny that opportunity…but usually for partisan reasons. Many people look at voting as a hassle. Would an education class about what the candidates have said and whether or not their statements were true or not be a better option, or would that be too much for the 21st century voter to care about? Or would it revolutionize the processes? I’m not sure about you but I for one am still all for benevolent despots.