Opinion: A democracy, if we can keep it


Published: 08-25-2023 6:00 AM

Jane Hunt lives in Concord.

As I write this, Donald Trump is the likely 2024 Republican nominee for the U.S. presidency. Here comes a trick (though serious) question: which will benefit U.S. citizens (you, for example) more in the next presidential contest: electing Trump or not electing Trump?

You claim this isn’t the choice, because Joe Biden is running too? Get real. We’ll hear about little except Donald Trump and his trials from now through January 2025, perhaps beyond.

Antique though I am, I wasn’t privy to our founders’ debates back in 1787 as they crafted our Constitution. That said, their design, boiled down, requires compromise and cooperation. A lawmaker proposes new legislation; some lawmakers support the proposal while others oppose it. They debate the proposal’s merits and drawbacks. If there’s too little support, the proposal dies; otherwise, lawmakers keep discussing, arguing, deleting, adding, and changing the original proposal until arriving at a final version. Then they vote.

This protracted process guarantees that few if any lawmakers or citizens get precisely what they want from any legislation. Instead, some of us get a little of what we wanted. Others, unaffected by the law, shrug it off as irrelevant. Those who loathe the new law grumble. In short, pretty much everybody goes home dissatisfied. That, folks, is democracy at work.

These days, a different version of American governance is taking hold. Since traditional democracy is difficult, time-consuming, cumbersome, and sometimes downright disappointing, why not abandon it? Why not opt for a different system? Instead of leaving so many of us grumbling, why not replace democracy with a system that enables at least some of us to roll in clover?

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In fact, we already have such a system. It’s so familiar that we barely notice how deeply we’re immersed in it. Clover-for-a-few, hay-for-some, and crabgrass for everybody else is how our economy works.

Many of us enter this system even before we’re eligible for the vote, so it’s not surprising that we see this order as “natural” and take it for granted. That same economy is currently chugging energetically along. Just about everybody who wants one has a paying job; business is booming; the stock market, despite occasional lurches, keeps climbing, and everything’s peachy, right? Why not graft this highly successful model onto our civic life?

Hold on: maybe that glittery big picture deserves a closer look. Let’s zoom down to ground level. Pat, a single full-time worker, makes $4,000/month. After deducting health insurance and other standard costs, Pat takes home about $3,100. Pat’s rent is $1,600/month; heating, cooling and electricity run $100; groceries run $400; internet, phone, and cable come to $200. Then there’s the car payment, insurance, and gas to get around, $400, and student loan payments of $275.

This leaves Pat with $125/month for fun, or emergencies, or the next spike in gas or grocery prices.

That wide-angle economic lens misses these details. Many in this economy — childcare workers, for example — can’t even dream of a $25/hour paycheck. If Pat marries and starts a family, let’s hope grandparents will babysit. Pat can neither find nor afford professional childcare. But we digress, or do we?

Workers, most of us between 18 and 65, get little say on salaries and benefits except with their feet, risky even in this job market. We get little or no say on working conditions, hours, or compensation. We do get injured, ill, stressed, harassed, and worse at our jobs. Is this really the model we want for our political lives?

Are we ready to give up our one lever of democratic power? Because that, folks, is what’s actually on the 2024 ballot. Forget Trump and Biden, what’s at stake here is larger than these men and their parties. No matter who wins the 2024 presidential election, Americans had better buckle up.

If the Democratic nominee wins, Republicans, or some subset thereof, are coming for this democracy. I’m no seer, I’m just passing on their promises. Let’s recall that at least seven Americans died as a result of the coup attempt. The faction responsible for their deaths has had 3½ years to plot another insurrection. Alarmist nonsense? They’re all in jail now? I hope you’re right. I fear you’re mistaken.

If the Republican nominee wins and is also Donald Trump, plans are already in hand to “revise,” courtesy of Stephen Miller, our 236-year-old Constitution, that fusty old relic. And what about all this other governmental clutter? Why bother with a Department of Education? Learning makes people uppity and hard to control. What’s this so-called Justice Department for? We don’t need that. The new president and his hench-staff can decide what’s just.

Whoever gets elected, we may be in for some fireworks. It’s not Democrat versus Republican this time, it’s idol versus ideal, autocracy versus democracy. That, friends, is my forecast for the contest we face in 2024. We’re the ones on the ballot this time. As Benjamin Franklin warned us back in 1787, we’ve got a democracy, if we can keep it.