Solution is more democracy, not less
Rep. Justin Jones, D-Nashville, walks from the Metro Nashville Courthouse to the Tennessee Capitol for his swearing-in ceremony on April 12, 2023. Jones was reappointed by the Metro Council less than a week after being expelled for taking part in a gun safety rally. (John Partipilo for Tennessee Lookout)
One step is critical in a democracy. Voters need a direct voice in who develops the policies and laws by which they must live. The State Board of Education has recently been steeped in its own drama — neither entertaining nor, ironically, educational. Nevertheless, the thud with which LR 24CA landed hit all the right notes for Nebraska, reminding us of the adage that problems in a democracy are best solved by more democracy, not less.
The old saw’s gravity is clearer now more than ever as we’re chipping away at the foundational principle on which our democratic republic was founded. Weakening the basis for our form of government moves us away from democracy and toward authoritarian practices.
The cases in point are plenty, but here are a few to consider: In Tennessee, two members of the state’s House of Representatives were expelled for a breach of decorum after they supported anti-gun protests at the Capitol and in the House chamber, including the use of a bullhorn. The protesters were primarily youths demanding that state leaders do something about gun violence after three children and three adults were gunned down in Nashville’s Covenant School.
Expulsion for a breach of decorum beggars belief, leaving one to wonder what might happen if a House member broke a law or punched a colleague. To underscore the absurdity of the House’s action, the Speaker compared the Tennessee protests to the Jan. 6 assault on the nation’s Capitol in which five people died, scores were injured and over 1,000 were charged with crimes. Pro tip: Make such a preposterous comparison and no one takes you seriously.
Moreover, on full display was the Tennessee House’s complete lack of self-awareness. When two black representatives get the boot and the white one charged with the same offense doesn’t? I hate to mix metaphors, but the optics of the vote smelled like a burning cross.
That their districts voted to return the two expelled members for reinstatement should not muddy the message. In Tennessee representative government, vigorous dissent will not be tolerated.
Dissent is the bedrock of a democracy, what some have called an article of faith, a responsibility. But just in case, if you live in Florida, dissenters may have to go on a list.
A Florida legislator has proposed that any bloggers in the state who are paid to write about public officials must register with the government. That’s so wacko even Gov. Ron DeSantis — no stranger to less democracy — won’t support it.
DeSantis has his own idea to ding democracy … again. He has resurrected his plan from a few years ago that would give him his own paramilitary force, which would be under his command. Gee, what could possibly go wrong?
Sometimes the ebbing of democracy can be found in what leaders and lawmakers find important. In this session of the Nebraska Legislature, many senators — some of whom align with the idea that the best government is the least government — have an unsettling preoccupation with the genitalia of the state’s youth and the uteruses of its women.
Nor is this absorption without some incongruity. In one manifestation, LB574, the argument is that a minor cannot fully form a sense of self enough to decide to seek gender affirming care — a life-altering decision. Yet in LB626, which would ban abortions in Nebraska after six weeks, often before someone realizes she is pregnant, the argument is that a female, who could also be a minor, is required to birth a child — also surely a life-altering decision.
To clear up such a dichotomy, I would argue that each of those decisions for Nebraskans under the age of 19 is best left up to their parents and doctors. Or, more simply, in a democracy such as ours, these medical decisions are neither the government’s business nor its area of expertise.
To its credit — especially several of its senators — the Nebraska Legislature is trying to solve its problems with more democracy: a legitimate, often exasperating provision we call the filibuster.
Churchill once said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.” It’s surely messy and sometimes maddening. But democracy is self-correcting, so more of it truly is the solution.
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