We stand at a crossroads. It’s not the first time in our history, but it could well be the last. If the midterm elections do not lead to a change of course, the world’s oldest, richest, and most powerful republic will find itself teetering on the brink of regime change.
The legitimacy of representative democracy rests, above all, on the principle of majority rule. In such a system people are moral and political equals, all people have the same rights, and nobody deserves special privileges, special access, or special treatment in, say, the tax code or a court of law.
People who work, pay taxes, raise families, and fight our wars are not little people, not ordinary, and not inferior simply because they were not born into special privilege or wealth or a famous family. In this perspective – the only one possible under our Bill of Rights – whether you are a Harvard graduate or did not finish high school is irrelevant to the question of your status, worth, or rights as a citizen at election time.
In theory, every citizen has one vote and only one. Everybody knows that’s not how the system works. Nobody knows it better than our elected leaders who prefer to sweep it under the carpet because to do otherwise is to commit political suicide. Just follow the money, where it comes from and how it explains the way members of Congress vote on any given issue, and you get a clear picture of how far the system has descended into plutocracy.
Big Government and Big Business are dominated by razor thin slice of American society. The characteristics of most members of this ruling class are strikingly and tellingly similar. Most of our leaders in business and government are white and male and college-educated. Most are over 50 years of age, have never served in the military, own multiple homes, and live in leafy neighborhoods behind fancy iron gates. Many have never worked in the public sector before deciding to run for high elective office.
There are, of course, exceptions, but most of the individuals who shape the laws and policies that affect the rest of us fit this profile. It is stunning to discover the extent to which over half of the electorate is still shut out of leadership positions.
It is true that woman have made inroads into professions in the past half century, but it is also true that in many top jobs women are still greatly outnumbered by men. From a piece in The New York Times this last Wednesday we learn that:
Fewer Republican senators are women than men named John – despite the fact that Johns represent 3.3 percent of the population, while women represent 50.8 percent. Fewer Democratic governors are women than men named John. And fewer women directed the top-grossing 100 films last year than men named Michael and James combined…
As the authors explain, these comparisons come from the Times Glass Ceiling Index, which counts the women and men in important leadership roles in American life – including politics, law, business, tech, academia, film and media:
…chief executives and directors of last year’s top-grossing films have the lowest rates of women. Top venture capitalists and House Republicans were next, followed by groups of politicians from both parties: Republican senators and governors, and Democratic governors.
Note: The gender gap in leadership is evident in both parties, but it is particularly pronounced in the one now in thrall to President Donald Trump.
In the view of Pulitzer-winning journalist, David Cay Johnson, “The November elections are the most important American elections since the Civil War, and I’m including 1932.” If history is any guide, Johnston notes, “the Republicans should lose control of the House by about four seats…. If Republicans retain control, …I believe…someone who shares Trump’s dictatorial and authoritarian tendencies but doesn’t have his baggage…will eventually arise and you can kiss your individual liberties goodbye.” ( Salon.com interview with Chauncy Devega 4/25/2018.)
Historians may one day look back on the midterm elections of 2018 and conclude that it was a golden opportunity to stop a free country from careening down a road to self-destruction. They may conclude that the people who could have turned it around in time to save a system based on a scheme of political equality and representation—the voters—blew it.
Tom Magstadt has published five books including Understanding Politics: Ideas, Institutions, and Issues, 10th ed., (Wadsworth, 2013) and Nations and Governments: Comparative Politics in Regional Perspective, 6th ed. (Wadsworth, 2011), and An Empire If You Can Keep It: Power and Principle in American Foreign Policy (CQ Press, 2004). He holds a doctorate from The Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in Washington, D.C. Readers are invited to follow Tom at on Facebook.