America’s failing Democracy

By Marvin Adams

Marvin Adams2

Marvin Adams is a parishioner of St. Anthony’s Parish in Washington D.C. His views do not necessarily reflect those of the Franciscan Action Network.


I, like a significant portion of the American population was basking in the euphoria created by Pope Francis’ visit last week. I had already put together an outline to convey my thoughts on his historic visit, when all of a sudden the political wonk in me was awaken with the sudden and unexpected pronouncement by Speaker John Boehner. Boehner shocked the political establishment and the rest of the country when he stated he would be resigning from office, and that his last day as Speaker will be October 30, 2015.


To say that no one saw this coming would be an understatement of herculean proportions. During the course of his four plus minute’s press conference, Boehner stated he wanted to resign last year but the unanticipated loss of his Majority Leader, Eric Cantor, prevented him from doing so. But why resign at this time? That I maintain is the million dollar question. The answer(s) lies somewhere between what was said, and just as importantly, what was not said.


It is a well-known fact that Boehner had fallen out of grace with a small, but very vocal group of members within the Republican Caucus. The Freedom Caucus, which represents around 50 members within the House of Representatives, has threatened on numerous occasions to remove Boehner from his position as speaker. Last week, two of Boehner’s staunchest allies, Reps. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Paul Ryan, (R-WI) both stated for the record their support for Boehner. When asked by a Politico reporter, McCarthy said “I support John Boehner as speaker.” He continued, “We should be spending all of our time and energy confronting this administration’s disastrous policies. He added, “The intrigue and fighting amongst ourselves only makes it harder to get that done.”


Mt first thought upon hearing of Boehner’s resignation was that of Alexis de Tocqueville. Tocqueville was a French political thinker and historian whose partial claim to fame was his assessment of a fledgling nation’s (United States) government which was chronicled in his work Democracy in America. In his treatise, Tocqueville wrote about the New World and its experiment with democracy. Tocqueville saw democracy as an equation that balanced both liberty and equality, both concern for the individual as well as of the community. An ardent critic of individualism, Tocqueville thought that through associating, the coming together of people for mutual purposes, both in public and in private, Americans are able to overcome selfish desires, thus making a self-conscious and active political society and a vibrant civil society functioning according to the political and social laws of the state. It’s also interesting to note that he warned that modern democracy may be adept at inventing new forms of tyranny, because radical equality could lead to materialism of an expanding bourgeoisie and the selfishness of individualism. It’s also important to note that approximately 200 years later Pope Francis implied as much when he pronounced that “unbridled capitalism is the new tyranny.”


In explaining the difference between aristocracy and democracy, Tocqueville pointed out that the major difference between the two was that “Among a democratic people, where there is no heredity wealth, every man works to earn a living…Labor is held in honor; the prejudice is not against but in its favor.” I think it is fair to state that Tocqueville’s assessment came before the advent of the Industrial Revolution which led to an inordinate amount of wealth being accumulated by 24 Robber Barons, who gained their fortunes primarily during the course of the Industrial Revolution. I think it goes without saying Tocqueville would have, in all probability, delivered a different assessment after having watched the likes of Astor, Carnegie, Fisk, Duke, Gates, Mellon, Morgan, Rockefeller, et al accumulate vast fortunes.


This brings us to where our democracy is presently. The hereditary wealth of which Tocqueville spoke during his tenure in the United States was little to non-existent. Today, our democracy is in danger of being usurped by those of means, who have been aided and abetted by a recent Supreme Court decision (see Citizen’s United). The basic tenet of democracy, which as defined, is a system of government by the whole population or all eligible members of a state, typically through elected officials is under attack. With the advent of Super Political Action Committees, combined with the effort to suppress the votes, our democracy today is a far cry from which it was intended to be.


Speaking of which, Tocqueville cited the apparent hypocrisy of the fledgling democratic state when he commented on the fact that not all citizens of the new republic were able to participate in government. When talking about this obvious fact, especially with respect to race, he states: “The first who attracts the eye, the first in enlightenment, in power and in happiness is the white man, the European, man par excellence; below him appear the Negro and the Indian. These two unfortunate races have neither birth, nor face, nor language, nor mores in common; only their misfortunes look alike. Both occupy an equally inferior position in the country that they inhabit; both experience the effects of tyranny; and if their miseries are different, they can accuse the same author for them.” What Tocqueville implied was that neither of these races, in addition to women, was able to participate in governance.


In order to have a truly democratic form of government, it is essential that every eligible citizen be afforded the right to participate, irrespective of their station in life. Until that transpires we will see the moneyed interest and their allies, of which Tocqueville wrote about, continue to make a mockery of our democracy. Tocqueville was both perceptive and prescient in his unbiased assessment our democracy in 1835. One can only imagine what his thoughts would be today? …


Marvin E. Adams is a political strategist. Follow him on Twitter @Marvineadams

Published in: on September 30, 2015 at 3:41 pm  Leave a Comment  

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