“But we’re a democracy; don’t they want everyone to vote?”

October 28, 2020

The title question was recently posed by an undergraduate student in a social welfare policy course. Under discussion was the power of the federal courts to adjudicate ballot disputes – a pivotal power in the present moment, evident even to those who usually prefer to ignore the finer points of political conflict – and specifically the determination of the Supreme Court that Wisconsin mail ballots that arrive after November 3 may not be counted, leaving those voters effectively disenfranchised.

It was one of those delightfully innocent questions that naively contains its own answer. Yes, we’re a self-described democracy – at least so long as that term’s meaning can be stretched to allow the ritualized selection, from a very shallow choice pool, of those who then expect to rule over the regular citizens without interference until the next electoral exercise. But no, “they” – the ruling elites, not merely the elected officials and their party comrades, but the big money backers who fund campaigns, set up Political Action Committees, spawn “think tanks” and friendly foundations, and finance armies of lobbyists to promote their interests – “they” decidedly do not want everyone to vote.

This election cycle, Republicans (“Trumpublicans,” as some wags would have it) especially do not want even a majority of voters to vote, for the simple reason that most of their policies are highly unpopular with most Americans. Do a majority of voters want more business deregulation? Bigger tax cuts for the wealthy? Round after round of bailouts for powerfully connected corporations while the needs of the tens of millions of working class Americans battered by the worst economic crisis in a century are literally ignored? A continuation of racist policing, brutal immigration policies, denial of the stark realities of the climate crisis, a badly broken health care “system” incapable of responding effectively to the Covid-19 pandemic, corruption riddling every facet of the federal government, including the judiciary, a daily drivel of falsehoods (“we’ve turned the corner on the pandemic!”) substituted for the obvious truth? Hardly. Indeed, regarding virtually every issue of substance, most voters want precisely the opposite of what Republicans have to offer.

A minority party representing minority interests can maintain power only through exclusion, not inclusion. So no, dear student, “they” most definitely do not want everyone to vote. There’s far too much risk to the American power elite in permitting even that much democratic process to work as it ought to.

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