Not in heaven, according to Jewish, Christian, and Muslim theologians. In America, the land of democracy? Come on, get serious! In business? Where the CEOs throttle their Boards of Directors and publish whatever financial results they want in their annual reports with the cooperation of Certified Public Accountants? In the military? Have you ever served a day on active duty? In our universities, colleges, public schools? In the family? In the 2000 plebiscite for President of the United States?
Throughout my public school life most of my teachers handled innocuous social issues by saying, “OK, let’s vote. The majority rules!” Gradually I learned that the majority selected the officers for our classes and the student body. These powerless officials never made any important decisions. When there were significant disagreements in parent/teacher committees, in social clubs, or in civic boards, these disputes were settled by a vote of the people who showed up at public meetings. In some cases a quorum of members had to be present to make the vote valid.
I suspect that the last official time a public majority actually ruled might have been in Athens more than 2,400 years ago when the local citizens convened a trial and a majority of them condemned Socrates to death for messing with the minds of the city youths with his disturbing philosophy! Examples like this assure us that an omniscient majority makes sound decisions that must be carried out to the letter. So, pass the cup with the hemlock to our obnoxious friend!
Yes, the majority rules in the votes of our city councils, our state legislatures, and in the Congress of the United States. These are representative assemblies, whose members are elected by voters who exercise their constitutional right to vote, whether they are adequately or honestly informed about the candidates or not. Most voters are one-issue-oriented or political party sycophants influenced by negative attack ads. In the Supreme Court of the United States the majority rules also, but the nine justices-for-life that serve are not elected to that auspicious bench by the populace or even by an Electoral College.
So what “majority” are we talking about anyway – the one that supposedly rules? Is it the majority of the members of the current government legislative bodies who vote on new laws? Or the majorities from prior assemblies who passed legislation that is still in effect whether it is appropriate for our current civic problems or not? For example: Does the majority of America’s citizens want the federal tax reductions passed years ago to remain in effect? These reductions for the wealthy tax payers seemed appropriate when we were told by both parties that there were going to be huge budget surpluses amounting to more than a trillion dollars. That was before the Great Recession and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan which caused a record deficit during the most recent fiscal year. Most of the tax reductions will be in effect until the end of 2010, unless Congress decides to act before then which is unlikely.
Well, the majority of us are slow to revise our thinking and to take appropriate action, aren’t we? And our elected representatives are even slower to react. But it makes sense for them to drag their feet, because haste makes waste, particularly when it takes so long to correct legislative mistakes that have unintended consequences, right? Besides our conscientious representatives want to make sure that the people who voted for them and contributed generously to their campaign coffers are happy with the proposed changes to the “unfair” legislation on the books. If the changes are controversial, the sneaky law-makers will hide them on a non-controversial bill whose smooth and quick passage won’t be reported or challenged by the impartial media!
But let’s face reality, folks. Only a few people actually “rule.” The rich, the ubiquitous but unidentified “powerful,” the terrorists armed with weapons, the vote traders in our legislatures, and never forget “the boss!” We have one newspaper in town, one police force, one fire department, one school system, one garbage collector, and one city council. Does the public know much about what these organizations do? What majority reviewed and approved their mission statement? How is the power of the majority brought to bear in our personal dealings with these stand-alone service organizations? And when? Only when some gross malfeasance has upset someone in the local press, who checked out the complaints of a few individuals. Then, something might get started to “correct” the “unacceptable” situation or make it “go away” from the media limelight.
We are proud to profess that in a democracy, the majority rules. What nonsense! All of us know that fear rules. Those who contemplate disobeying the law are intimidated by the constant threats of being brusquely carted off by the police for a night in the hoosegow and an expensive trial. Current revelations about how defendants were railroaded into prison without having critical evidence authenticated by modern technical methods have shown us how injustice is served to the poor.
The latest scandal about our trial-by-jury legal system is the not-so-shocking news that despite the rigorous screening process used to select jury members, some members carefully chosen are actually prejudiced by the reports they have read in the papers and some are deliberately dishonest in answering questions during the selection process. But the courts seldom punish a perjured jury member, even in a costly and extended trial.
How many situations do we face each day where the majority of one rules? In our churches, our class rooms, our offices, our factories, our banks, our stores, our public transport vehicles? But we are so used to that happening to us; it doesn’t bother us anymore at all. Yet, we preach to the world that the will of the majority of the citizens of America is respected by those who make important public decisions and write the law. The majority is satisfied with the sincere efforts of non-elected public servants who pursue and prosecute the scofflaws and the dangerous criminals.
Does the majority reign in America? Only in theory and in our imagination. The reality makes hypocrites of us all, however. That hypocrisy is one we choose to embrace when we are talking with the naive. The individual who expects freedom in this country finds out quickly that authority has built tall legal fences about every aspect of our lives. Isolated as each individual is in this country of over 300 million souls, how can anyone seriously expect to “get in touch” with the majority? Even with the Internet connections that are available?
What we have in America is an untold number of mini-dictatorships administered by the factotums in charge of the activity that we must interface with. Such recalcitrant human obstacles cannot be removed by the majority of those being served. We must do as they instruct us, pay them a bribe, or decide not to proceed.
Aware that the majority doesn’t control anything in America, the ambitious, the aggressive, the rugged individualist, and their facilitating lawyer and banking friends embark on a career of building wealth and power to cater to the whims of the media and to influence our elected representatives. Words, money, lobbies, and connections are used to climb the ladder of power.
A few thousand people may be polled, but the majority is not contacted to determine what that amorphous group desires, because most of the ignored majority doesn’t know. And if they had an inkling, they could be persuaded by silver-tongued “experts,” manipulative advertisers, and political spin-meisters to go along with the “thinking of the crowd” or the party as they always did in public school.
Obviously opportunities exist and the wily don’t sit on their hands. The famous “silent majority” gripes and complains, but never gets itself organized. A third party of rebellious citizens may form and demonstrate, but the loyalists to the two major parties know that no third party has been able to seriously affect a major election, despite what some contend about the presidential election of Bill Clinton. There is just too much clever rhetoric circulated by the major parties to allow an underfunded third party to elbow its way into the political mainstream. Anyway, it’s not the carefully massaged message that attracts the voter anymore; it usually is the personal charisma of the candidate.
Looking at the statistics of the voter turn-out on Election Day, you will see that only in a highly contested election do more than 50% of the registered voters show up. And the number of registered voters doesn’t include those who are too lazy to register, the illegal aliens, the felons, and the eligible citizens who have lost faith in the “second-to-none” democratic system. The lethargy of registered voters who fail to show up on Election Day is obvious. They know that their vote is virtually meaningless; that the candidates running for office are clones of former unreliable or disreputable politicians, and that the possibility is remote that any candidate has the public interest at heart.
If the majority doesn’t rule, who does? In America the bureaucrats who aren’t elected, the teachers and professors who have tenure, the military leaders who aren’t “passed over,” and the unseen “interests” who have millions of dollars for campaign contributions. The groups who wield the power are not by any means the majority of the 300 million residents, even when you eliminate all the citizens who are ineligible to vote.
But I am not telling you anything you didn’t already know. I’m surprised that you have read this far into my screed, because there’s nothing one citizen can do about the situation. And nothing that a simple majority can do either!