By Robert A. Vella
In the run-up to the U.S. 2014 midterm elections, all everyone could talk about was voter turnout. Democrats kept pounding the message day after day on the airwaves. “If we turn out our voters,” they repeated, “we’ll win.” Although they put a positive spin on it, their real fear was that voters wouldn’t turn out and that Democrats would lose big. Republicans, on the other hand, spoke even louder through their actions. By enacting voter suppression measures everywhere they could, and pushing their plutocratic money-in-politics agenda through the courts, Republicans were sending this subliminal message: “reduce voter turnout and we win.”
Both were correct. Voter turnout in 2014 was the lowest since World War II when tens of millions of Americans were serving in the armed forces overseas and the nation was gripped by war. The preliminary figure of 36.6% is more than 20 points lower than the post-war high in 1966, and nearly 5 points lower than the previous midterm election in 2010 (see: National General Election VEP Turnout Rates, 1789-Present). For comparison, voter turnout in the 1866 midterm election following the Civil War topped 70%. Back then, Americans cared about their democracy and participated in it if they could (blacks and women didn’t yet have voting rights).
But, election analysis offered by the news media has been ignoring this 800-pound gorilla standing menacingly in the room. Even die-hard lefties are avoiding the topic. Why? Because its logical conclusion is most disturbing:
Without an educated and participatory populace, democracy cannot function.
With conservatives now holding overwhelming power in the U.S. Congress, the state legislatures and governorships, America is about to make a very hard and dangerous turn to the political right. President Obama will offer token resistance on some issues, but he is no longer in any position to promote progressive policies even if he wanted to. Furthermore, the electoral landscape for 2016 has now radically changed. Presumptive presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton will not only face an entrenched Republican majority, but a disaffected and disenfranchised Democratic Party base as well.
If you value economic fairness, civil rights, social justice, science and education, and the idea of egalitarianism, you should be deeply concerned. If you value the concentration of wealth and power, social stratification based on race and ethnicity, the subjugation of consumers and workers, an authoritarian crackdown on dissent, and the idea of Christian dominionism, you’re probably jumping for joy right now.
A new report from the World Economic Forum had this to say (from The Economic Times – Income inequality, jobless growth key concerns for leaders: World Economic Forum):
Top 10 trends for 2015 are deepening income inequality; jobless growth; lack of leadership; rising geostrategic competition; weakening of representative democracy; rising pollution in developing world; rising occurrence of severe weather events; intensifying nationalism increasing water stress and growing importance of health in the economy. [emphasis added]
The trends are based on a survey of almost 1,800 experts from the Forum’s network of global agenda councils as well as other communities within the World Economic Forum on what they believe would preoccupy leaders over the coming 12-18 months.
Voting isn’t equivalent to ordering extra cheese on your pizza. It also doesn’t come with any guarantee that your individual vote will effect any particular outcome. But, it does give you a voice in the governing of society. It is the sum total of all voices which are determinative. Without that voice, you are just screaming into the wind.
No one will miss democracy until it’s gone. Then, they will miss it terribly.