Last week the Supreme Court, in all its fractured wisdom, narrowly decided that the federal judiciary had no place in gerrymandering cases. In short, politicians are now free to choose their voters if they control enough of their state’s levers of power. Welcome to democracy in 2019.
The history of the United States of America is one of striving and often failing to live up to the lofty ideals set by the founders. First among those was Thomas Jefferson, who wrote in the Declaration of Independence:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
This is one of the most radical and profound statements ever uttered. It’s power thunders down the generations, capturing the longing of countless billions for a better and freer life. We are all equal. We all have the same rights to live, to be free, and to do whatever we wish as long as doesn’t infringe upon the rights of others.
What an astonishing way to start a nation. It’s no wonder so many over the years saw America as a beacon of hope in a dark world.
But it’s also no wonder that we are judged more harshly for our failures in both the eyes of the world and of our own people.
This is a nation of deep contradictions. How could it not be? When it was founded, the United States held almost 700,000 slaves of African descent. Jefferson himself was a slaveowner.
The 1790 census counted 697,681 slaves, or around 18% of the total population. Of those, 2,648 slaves were here in Connecticut. The United States also did not allow women to vote, and our expansion across the continent was done at the bloody expense of the Native Americans who already lived there.
In the 243 years since the Declaration of Independence we have fought, we have marched, we have voted, and we have died to make Jefferson’s words a reality. We’re closer than we were back then, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have a very long way left to go.
A crucial part of making the United States the “more perfect union” of the Constitution is the constant examination and re-evaluation of the state of our democracy, which is the fundamental bedrock that life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are built upon.
Several important pieces of our democracy are currently either under threat or in crisis.
The Supreme Court decision on gerrymandering was a disaster for democracy. States that have a partisan redistricting process and in which all the levers of power are controlled by one party will now be vulnerable to ever more partisan district drawing.
I’m sure my Republican friends assume I’m talking about their party. And I am! GOP-controlled Texas is already passing sneaky laws to keep parts of their redistricting process secret.
But I doubt very much Republicans would enjoy it if Connecticut’s redistricting process was controlled entirely by Democrats, and they had no way to challenge it.
Gerrymandering allows politicians to choose their voters instead of the other way around, and that robs the people of their voice.
Nonpolitical panels or even algorithms are needed to make redistricting decisions, based on principles of compactness and equality.
We also need to make it easier to vote. Registration should be simple or automatic, early or no-excuses-necessary absentee voting should be welcomed and expanded, voter ID laws should be as lenient as possible, and Election Day should be a federal holiday.
I find opposition to these proposals to be stupefying. Expanding democracy has long been one of our core values, and the threat of voter fraud has turned out to be nonexistent.
I’m heartened to see at least one presidential candidate, Elizabeth Warren, actually talking about the need for voting reforms. I hope her ideas spark more conversation at all levels of government.
One last crucial pillar of our democracy is the free press, without which government can’t be held accountable. The press has been under sustained attack from the president and many others who think like him just at the time when so many news outlets are shedding staff or closing.
It’s no surprise that despots and dictators always attack the press, because tyranny can’t survive in the harsh light of day. Freedom-loving Americans should support the freedom of the press because the truth is precious, and it has no political bias.
Happy 4th of July, everyone! May democracy and liberty flourish.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.
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