How Pretending Like Our Democracy is Perfect Will Guarantee its Demise

 

“But what are you going to do now? You can’t change the outcome by screaming in the street. Just accept democracy.”

 

This sentiment is one of the responses opposing the anti-Trump policy/presidency/electoral college protests occurring across the country after this year’s election results were reached on Wednesday, November 10th. Not only have Trump supporters condemned the movements as “whiny” and the product of a “sore loser mentality”, but even many citizens who voted for Former Secretary Clinton, or not at all, argue that these demonstrations are not only in vain, but also naive.

The main argument, as shown by the paraphrased quote above that combines the many responses I have heard from my fellow coworkers, students, and colleagues, is that this outcome was reached through democracy and is therefore legitimate. In fact, the election of Donald Trump is, according to this argument, legitimate because it must reflect the views of Americans, the majority of whom “voted” for him.

The first issue one could cross with this mentality is that, while a nation may have the institutions in place to carry out democratic systems, such as elections, debates, and bicameral legislatures, this does not necessarily mean it has reached its potential for optimal democratic life.

Understanding democracy as a process will allow anyone to see that democratic benefits are not equally shared. In fact, it is instead naive to believe that the protests are naive as democracy is not a destination, executed perfectly by any government on Earth. Stating that “democracy has spoken” is assuming that our democratic process is of the most reliable of sorts, when this is not the case. The best way to see the issue, therefore, is to recognize the difference between procedural democracy and substantive democracy.

The quality of the environment in which citizens can participate in the public sphere of politics (substantive democracy) is not equally shared in the United States. While several marginalized groups fight for equal representation and acknowledgement of the legitimacy of their opinions, others still claim that their winning votes are being undercut by fellow citizens. To be more specific, the so-called “hate” that Trump supporters received after his election sparked a flurry of rebuttals to the tune of fighting back the “oppression of their political views” or even accusations that opposing sides were not respecting their opinions.

From a democratic standpoint, these complaints about the protests and post-election backlash are hypocritical in more ways than one. Firstly, claiming that the anti-Trump movement is not accepting democracy in its works is completely ignoring the fact that protesting and expressing one’s opinions is democracy. The individuals marching in Washington D.C. or holding signs in front of Trump Tower are participating in democracy to the extent that people who voted were participating.

Secondly, with regards to Trump supporters feeling as though their opinions are being criticized and possibly not heard, there is a truth from which no Trump voter can be excluded. The election of a candidate whose campaign is fueled by suppressing differing political views is the opposite of democratic. The “hate” and delegitimizing of opinions received by his supporters after the election is the same environment in which marginalized groups have been treated in our democracy since its founding- not to mention especially during the Trump campaign.

The biggest threat to our democracy is assuming that its survival is inevitable. It requires constant improving, which means we cannot have citizens who believe that democracy means their voice is heard. Instead, we need to agree that democracy means having our voices heard. To be clear, this is not suggesting that our current democratic system should be thrown out, perhaps because of its more-than-apparent inefficiencies, but quite the opposite. Furthering and improving our current system requires opening the public sphere to African Americans in ways that they feel more like citizens whose opinions matter instead of citizens under watch. It requires a path to citizenship for immigrants who work to participate in our system and want to be part of our democratic process. It requires large corporations to be treated as such instead of living people and for politicians to believe in the power of collective good instead of corrupt interest.

Obviously, there is a long way to go before our democracy should be considered complete and fair, and thus legitimate. For now, discourse and negotiation between stances on issues is what we do best. As Americans, we should be proud of our ability to disagree- it is a privilege denied to many.

So, be proud of your vote, but do not let democracy end at the polls.