Barely Passing: Some Thoughts on Election Day

I’m glad you voted. Yay. Go democracy and all that. Maybe I’m feeling bitchy because I’m fighting off a cold and am tired from too little sleep or maybe my stress at facing my comprehensive exams in 12 days is getting to me, but what I’m not glad about is this constant stream of people in my Twitter and Facebook feeds being self-righteous about having voted as if that act makes them a full participant in our civic management of this country. Again, you voted. Good for you. I’ll vote too, but you know what? As nice as it is that we are voting in a national election, if we don’t know who is on our school boards; if we have, through inaction and passivity, allowed our country to begin the cold-blooded assassination of people through a drone warfare that we are continuing, as a nation, to ignore; if we have not written, called, or showed up at our congressional representatives offices and told them what we want them do to about a myriad of issues; if we have simply gone about our lives, signed a few online petitions, shared a few links, and then walk into the polls today, we get, at best a barely passing grade on the whole democracy thing.

Look, I know we are all busy. I know we are not living lives of leisure and that taking care of self and family and friends takes up most of our time when we are not working and I know that, for many and for many reasons, we don’t have the time or energy or inclination to participate more in our participatory democracy. I am not exempting myself from this critique*. What I am saying is that I will vote today. And that I get, just maybe, a barely passing grade at civic engagement. But that does not make me either especially proud or a better person. Voting ought to be the final act of a politically and civically engaged life, not the one and only such act.

Perhaps, instead of peacocking around with the “I voted bit” we could use this day to pick one or two ways that we might be more politically and civically engaged in the coming year. Perhaps, instead if making ourselves out to be moral paragons for voting, we could pledge ourselves to volunteering more, to engaging in the battle for the future a bit more, or to actively working for more political enfranchisement for the economically disadvantaged, the protection of civil rights, or the safety of women’s reproductive rights. 1

Maybe, like I said, I’m just being bitchy. Probably I’m simply projecting a self-critique outwards to all those who are crowing about voting when all they mean to do is encourage others to do so. Still, I can’t help but wonder how much this one act of voting stands in for what ought to be a daily engagement.

  1. Or whatever is most important to you, of course. []

Witches Commies and Terrorists Oh My!

For a country that prides itself on democracy and freedom, the U.S. has a long history of blind and unthinking allegiance to scapegoating whoever the government wants scapegoated. What is amusing is that this blind, unthinking, slack-jawed version of democracy, while not a product of any one political party, is particularly apparent in the conservative love of authoritarianism that is in marked opposition to the rhetoric they often spew about freedom and liberty and the rule of law.

From Glenn Greenwald:

All throughout the Bush years, no matter what one objected to — illegal eavesdropping, torture, rendition, indefinite detention, denial of civilian trials — the response from Bush followers was the same: “But these are Terrorists, and Terrorists have no rights, so who cares what is done to them?” What they actually meant was: “the Government has claimed they are Terrorists,” but in their minds, that was the same thing as: “they are Terrorists.” They recognized no distinction between “a government accusation” and “unchallengeable truth”; in the authoritarian’s mind, by definition, those are synonymous. The whole point of the Bush-era controversies was that — away from an actual battlefield and where the Constitution applies (on U.S. soil and/or towards American citizens wherever they are) — the Government should have to demonstrate someone’s guilt before it’s assumed (e.g., they should have to show probable cause to a court and obtain warrants before eavesdropping; they should have to offer evidence that a person engaged in Terrorism before locking them in a cage, etc.). But to someone who equates unproven government accusations with proof, those processes are entirely unnecessary. Even in the absence of those processes, they already know that these persons are Terrorists. How do they know that? Because the Government said so. Even when it comes to their fellow citizens, that’s all the “proof” that is needed. (Link)

And just to go on to prove that this attitude is not limited to the conservative idiocy of GOP supporters, Greenwald points to a disturbing trend in Obama supporters and liberals who are reacting in exactly the same way when the Government points its finger and says, “that one is a TERRORIST.” Idiocy and stupidity and fear and knee-jerk reactions and the desire for vengeance and scapegoating are human traits and not solely owned and operated by tea-partiers, GOP supporters, the Ku Klux Klan, neo-nazis, etc. The Red Scare and the Communist witch hunts of the 50s were made possible by liberals who allowed and bought into the fears that the Government was peddling. Obama, for whatever reasons, has decided to continue using the same mechanism of scapegoating that Bush put into place.

Without the rule of law, we have lost.

Without the a system of justice that depends on proof and judicial process and the ability to defend oneself against one’s accuser, our experiment in democracy is nearing an end. Like it or not, civilization needs to do its level best to keep emotions and personal feelings out of our justice system and depend as much as possible on the rule of law. Even for the most brutal killer. Even for the most guilty of terrorists. Even, and especially, for anyone accused and not yet proven guilty of any damn thing.

One would think that, as American’s, we might all be able to get behind the rule of law instead of mob mentality. Sure, each and every one of us has felt the siren song of vengeance and blood-for-blood. As a nation, we should be better than our basest selves, otherwise we are no better than those who blow up innocent people to make a point.

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