America's Undemocratic Democracy
America has always had a problem with universal suffrage. Truth be told, America was never originally meant to be a nation for all people. The America as envisioned by Abraham Lincoln in his Gettysburg Address wasn’t the reality before it was written, when it was written – and we still don’t have it today.
“We here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain – that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the Earth.”
The myth of American democracy has been an enduring one. While certainly, the framework of a democratic nation has always existed – the truth is in the beginning America was a government for rich, propertied white males. Everyone else has had to fight for their suffrage – fight for the ability to determine leadership in the most powerful nation in world history.
That America was founded with this fundamental democratic (or pseudo-democratic) flaw weaved into its foundation has not been properly understood by many today. There is the impression that America is more democratic and open to new ideas than it really is. That’s not remotely controversial, because it’s always been this way.
Take felony disenfranchisement for instance. According to The Sentencing Project, 6.1 million Americans have lost their right to vote because of a felony conviction. There is a racial component to this as well because 1 in 13 African-Americans have been hurt by felony disenfranchisement vs. 1 in 56 non-Black voters.
Research from The Marshall Project, a criminal justice-focused nonprofit, shows that felony disenfranchisement has racist roots. In 1901, an Alabaman named John P. Knox literally sought to cement white supremacist control in the state by changing the Alabama Constitution. The Constitution would be changed to allow for the labeling of people as ‘felons’ to legally disenfranchise them. Not only did this work, but Alabama’s 1901 Constitution still remains enforced today and a slew of new states have implemented felony disenfranchisement as a strategy.
Felony disenfranchisement is an exploit of loopholes found in both the 13th and 14th amendments that allow for the revoking of rights if you are found guilty of a crime.
So while progress has been made throughout history, you can also see the backlash to that progress. Felony disenfranchisement is just one aspect of America’s massively undemocratic democracy.
The Shrinking Republican Base
I am a firm believer in that idea that much of the racial and ethnic divisions in America today are firmly rooted in one very important thing – changing demographics. America is going through a population shift – a shift that could see the historic dominance of one group over all others increasingly difficult to maintain.
This has caused some within the traditional Republican base to have ‘racial anxiety’ over what has been dubbed the ‘browning of America.’ This fear is heightened, I’d imagine when Republican voters realize that the generations they rely on to win are the oldest generations in America.
Since white voters make up the majority of the Republican base, it’s also important to note not only political affiliation trends but also overall demographic trends. That’s actually where the shift is most noticeable.
Research shows that America’s diversity is actually accelerating quicker than older projections thought. What’s happening today, wasn’t projected to happen for another decade. Census data from 2017 shows that for the first time in American history, there are more children between the ages of 0-9 who are non-White than White. Meaning we are on the verge of seeing the first minority white generation, born in 2007 and later.
Not only this, but Millennials are the most “anti-Republican” generation in recent U.S. history when compared with The Silent Generation, Baby Boomers, and Gen X. Right now, Republicans are most dependent on the first two generations and as time moves on…winning for them will become harder and harder. They know this. They know they don’t have the demographic advantage and won’t be able to rely on older White conservative voters forever.
Enter voter suppression.
The Importance of Voter Suppression To Republican Success
Let me make this clear – Republicans need voter suppression now more than ever. As time goes on, it’s actually going to be critical to their maintenance of power. I’d imagine that what they want to create is an artificial power base that allows them to maintain power as a minority in the coming decades.
It will be hard for this system to remain in place forever, but in the near future, it can cause an incredible amount of damage.
Look at what the Trump administration wants to do with the U.S. Census by asking a question about citizenship. Then research what the Florida House just did by passing a poll tax for former felons forcing them to pay fees before getting their rights back. You will see that suppression is their goal.
Voter suppression will be one of the top issues Black and Intellectual addresses going forward. It’s too important heading into 2020.