Democracy is Peril
Welcome back to Anarchist Hot Takes, the weekly newsletter from Everyday Anarchism. I know, I know, it hasn't been weekly lately. Things have been pretty crazy, Hopefully we're back on track.
This week, I wanted to lament the lamentations about democracy. Did you know democracy was in trouble? You should have. Here's Vox: American democracy is tottering. It's not clear Americans care. Yikes, sounds like it's your fault. Perhaps the New York Times: Will 2024 be the year American democracy dies? The Atlantic got particularly worried: The Atlantic Publishes Special Issue on American Democracy in Crisis.
So, you get it. We might lose democracy. So what?
What is the point of democracy? What does democracy even mean? The journalists and political scientists who claim that democracy is about to end are not paying attention to the real questions. They are defining democracy as "the current American political system." Or perhaps they are defining the current American political system as "democracy."
Is that system about to fall apart? I'm not as concerned as they are. But I'm not sure that we should want it to stay together. Is this democracy? Very Serious People are very, very concerned that Trump wanted to be president even though he didn't win the electoral college. But the electoral college, as everyone knows by now, is anti-democratic. It was anti-democratic when Trump won it, and it was anti-democratic when Biden won it. It was anti-democratic when George W. Bush won it without winning the popular vote and anti-democratic when George W. Bush won it as well as the popular vote.
The Supreme Court is anti-democratic. Everyone wants to save Roe vs. Wade - well, even Ruth Bader Ginsburg mentioned that it was undemocratic. School integration was undemocratic. Vaccine mandates are definitely undemocratic.
Or, at least, they go against the will of the majority of people, as best as we can tell. But we can never really tell. No one knows what the will of the people is, and we can and should stop trying.
"American democracy is in danger, unless you elect me" was more or less Hillary Clinton's only campaign promise. And tens of millions of Americans were quite happy to vote against the living embodiment of the Beltway consensus, and tens of millions more were happy not to vote.
American democracy is in danger because it hasn't been of, for, and by the people. And if elite columnists for places like Vox and the Times have their way, it never will be.
I certainly can't tell you what to do about this. And I'm not sure if we should keep using the word democracy or not - I'll write a number of essays about this, using Oscar Wilde, Randolph Bourne, Emma Goldman, John Dewey, and Ruth Kinna - to try to get some answers.
But know this, ye prophets of doom: most people who live in America have no reason to trust or believe in American "democracy." If you tell them the system is doomed, you're unlikely to alarm them. If you tell them the system they currently live in is called "democracy," they're unlikely to feel very good about democracy. I'll try to offer some answers in future newsletters. But I can tell you that calls to protect the system, the system that doesn't even value voting rights, in the name of "democracy," isn't going to bring anyone running to its aid.