For years, America has been simmering in the ever-increasing heat of anger and frustration fed by those who stoke the fires of ignorance and bigotry. Like the proverbial frog, we’re finally beginning to look around and recognize the division and derision that now describes so many aspects of our lives. It’s tearing the country apart. But too few seem to give much of a damn.
In this month that celebrates our independence, there’s the realization that our elected representatives not only don’t reflect the will of the people, they don’t even bother to pretend to. The checks and balance system between the three branches of government has been fraying for years and finally broke in the aftermath of January 6, 2021 when allegiance to person took precedent over the rule of law and the Constitution. But that was just a symptom of a disease much more debilitating: the slow-moving suicide of liberty and individual freedoms, ignoring the will of the people, and the ever increasing role of individual states.
A representative government is self-descriptive. We the people elect members of the Congress and Senate to represent the will of the people. That’s their job. They aren’t doing it.
According to poll after poll, the vast majority of Americans want reasonable gun safety laws that include comprehensive background checks and banning assault weapons. They want policies that protect the planet by addressing climate change. They support the rights of women to maintain autonomy over their own body, and the separation of church and state. And yet both chambers ignore the wishes of the majority of the people who sent them there. The Supreme Court mimics the ideology of control and power articulated by the states which further infringes on these rights.
Here are the statistics on four publicly supported critical policies:
• According to the latest poll conducted by NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist, 59% of Americans think it’s more important to control gun violence than to protect gun rights. A FOX News poll taken in June showed 88% favor comprehensive background checks, and 63% support banning assault weapons. The recent legislation addressed neither.
• A poll by Yale and George Mason showed that 70% of Americans agree that global warming is real with 57% attributing it to human causation. And 68% of us favor a revenue-neutral plan to “require fossil fuel companies to pay a carbon tax” and then return that money back to American households. So more than two-thirds of Americans, including those in fossil fuel-dependent states, support a carbon-based tax. H.R. 763—Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act was introduced in Congress in 2019 and has gone nowhere.
• The majority of Americans, in poll after poll, support a woman’s right to choose. Pew Research, in their latest poll, found that 61% of Americans state that abortion should be legal in some or all circumstances. Further, a poll of Republicans by the Public Religion Research Institute, found 77% oppose restricting birth control, 64% oppose prohibiting crossing state lines to get an abortion, 61% oppose criminalizing those who seek abortions, and 56% oppose banning FDA-approved abortion pills. And yet these results are being ignored by lawmakers.
• Recent polling found that more than half of Americans support the separation of church and state, and 69% believe the U.S. should never declare an official religion (Pew Research Center). And yet the Supreme Court and state after state are supporting laws that promote public prayer and other religious activity in public places. The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found a whopping 75% of Americans say the Supreme Court doesn’t reflect their views.
So if lawmakers aren’t listening to the majority of voters on these critical issues, who are they listening to? The answer is those who have the biggest purse. The desire to stay in office, to maintain power and control, is the motivating factor for many who choose to ignore the will of the people. And that is reflected in the lack of trust in government. “About two-thirds of voters, including nearly identical shares of both parties, said most people seeking elected office at all levels do so to serve their own personal interests.” (Pew Research Center). Voters get it.
When the will of the majority of the people is ignored, trust in government disappears. And without trust in those we elect to represent us, democracy and its reason for being dies. Our founding fathers put their trust in a representative democracy but they were prophetic about its future. John Adams said, “There never was a democracy yet that didn’t commit suicide.” A democratic republic is a fragile thing. It requires constant vigilance. When Benjamin Franklin was asked what kind of government the founders had created, his response is one that rings true today: “A republic, if you can keep it.”
The question is, can we?
Marsha Shearer is a resident of The Villages and the author of “America in Crisis: Essays on the Failed Presidency of Donald J. Trump.”