The Absurdity of Democracy
What is it that bothers me so much about the life I lead in a first world country where I have a relative amount of freedom of speech and expression, (compared to those in third world countries who have little or no voice); the right and responsibility to vote and a reasonable income that allows me to enjoy a comfortable life? Granted, that was a very long winded rhetorical question but one that should be rhetorical for the likes of me, a person who enjoys all of the above and more and yet, here I am, not one month returned from a third world country whose wonderful people smile in the face of all manner of political and social adversity. I have been complaining. Complaining about a state election that is about to take place: an election that will not be ruined by corruption whomever wins, whatever my feelings may be over the outcome. I told myself I wouldn’t gripe like this after seeing the fortitude, resilience and strength of character of the poorest Cambodian people who manage their daily lives with such grace in the face of overwhelming poverty and political suppression.
There is a difference. A difference between those people born into third world countries who are over governed and suppressed and those born into first world countries who feel they are over governed, but in all reality, are definitely not suppressed: as with me and just about everyone I know. The people living in the Australian state of Victoria will cast their compulsory vote without fear of forced capture, persecution, torture and possibly death for simply turning up, waiting in a queue for a short period of time to place a slip of paper in a box. There may even be a sausage sizzle to wet their appetite.
When I moved to Australia in 1991, I was appalled at a law (at all levels of government), that stipulated all citizens of Australia must vote: that at every level of government, voting is compulsory and that, failure to comply with that law would result in a hefty monetary fine. It galled me to think that, regardless of one’s political bent (so to speak), people were forced to make a choice between two major parties followed closely by The Greens Party and a few minor fringe parties. Furthermore, if the voter decided to cast their vote away from the major parties, their vote would then be passed on by that fringe party to one of the two major parties: those two parties in Australia being Labor or Liberal.
I have changed my view on compulsory voting of late. I say of late; I came to the opposite standpoint on compulsory voting after two major events on the opposite sides of the world: those being Donald Trump’s election to become President of the United states and shortly after that, the result of the United Kingdom’s Brexit referendum in 2016. Both those results for me were absurd and due (in my opinion), to one reason only. Too many people in both of those countries do not vote. According to American media at the time of the last American presidential election, sixty percent of registered voters turned up to take part in the democratic process. This turnout, according to most American media outlets was one of the highest voting years; they expressed pleasure in the fact that so many had wanted to be involved politically with the future of their country. Indeed, many of the media commentators in that country made a point of saying Mr. Trump had ‘galvanised’ large numbers of people who hitherto, had not registered to vote in the belief that their vote was meaningless and that their vote would make no difference to the election’s outcome. This negative attitude to a democratic right and responsibility in a country whose national anthem includes the words ‘in the land of the free’, is bizarre and as I mentioned before, completely absurd. Presumably, they – The Americans that is – are free to exercise their political rights and more importantly, their political responsibilities.
Given America’s population (some three hundred and fifty million plus people at any given time), if only sixty percent of registered voters turned up to take part in the political process, that would mean (given my calculations are roughly correct), somewhere in the region of one hundred and fifty million Americans do not vote. Totally absurd I am sure. I suspect, (I may be wrong and stand to be corrected), that it is the majority of those one hundred and fifty million non-voting people who have become so vocal on all social platforms. They are are so vitriolic in their criticisms of the current president. Their vitriol, venom, bile and bitterness (call it what you will), is aimed at everyone and everything they feel is the cause of what they believe to be (and this is a loose collective paraphrase based on thousands of protesting Americans who appear daily on media platforms all over the world), ‘one of the gravest political travesties in American political history’.
Now of course, as in all political events that do not go the way those non-voters would have wanted, the blame game and insults continue with a rage and venom, not to mention satire and woeful political insight that could be misconstrued as the mood of the whole American nation. Once again, totally absurd. All of their collective vituperation is bellowed daily as loud as can be at a doting sycophantic television and social media audience in what I believe is a feeble attempt to mislead the reality of what actually happened. That is, put simply, their laziness and apathy towards their democratic right and responsibility to vote is the simple collective reason Mr. Trump holds his presidential office. Had they voted, that is, all one hundred and fifty million of them, Mr. Trump would not be sitting where he is today and the world would be a much better place for it. There are no excuses for their apathy, lethargy or for that matter: their laziness.
The blame game and insults continue and will continue until the day Mr. Trump passes on the mantle to the next president elect. Those who are involved in the blame game, will continue to scream about Russian intervention and the insults will continue to be hurled at any one who voted for Mr. Trump. There’s the rub: had the one hundred and fifty million voted, it would not have mattered one iota what the Russians may or may not have done. Their influence would have been at best, to coin a phrase, ‘a blip on the radar screen’. Had the one hundred and fifty million voted, there would be no need to hurl insults at those who did vote, describing them as boorish, uneducated and racist. They voted and didn’t break any laws by doing so; so it is even more galling to see and hear as I did recently on CNN and the BBC, people who didn’t vote shouting “You don’t understand democracy!” If that isn’t absurd then I don’t know what is. There are evenings when I look at my television set and want to shriek at a satirical talk show host whose audience swoon and giggle at his every word; “The reason Trump is there in office you moron, is because half your audience didn’t vote and there they sit in your studio laughing at your inanity!”, to which my darling wife points out with as much sarcasm as she can muster, “They can’t hear you.”
In Britain it was the same story. I understand that seventeen and a half million Britons turned out to vote during the Brexit referendum. Given Britain’s population (sixty six and a half million people), that would mean if once again, my calculations are correct, that at least twenty million or so eligible people did not vote. Yet more absurdity; especially if you consider that most of those British non-voters are likely to have had a good education, be relatively up to date in knowledge as far as the politics of Europe is concerned and passionate enough (given their latter protestations at the outcome), to make sure they got themselves down to the polling booth to have their two pence worth, so to speak; but no, they did not. The twenty million or so non-voters could not be bothered. They were eligible to vote but on the day when it mattered, they could not be moved to take action or they made ill-advised assumptions about the result with little or no thought as to the consequences of their inaction.
Brexit passed and all Hell broke loose. Since that time, the majority of politicians in Westminster (who did not want Brexit), have done everything possible to stop it from going through to its final stages. It would not surprise me one bit, if it turns out that all those politicians opposed to Brexit have houses, holiday homes and all manner of other financial interests around Europe. If ever there was an example of the vast disconnect between the wealthy politicians in Westminster and people who struggle to make ends meet in most other parts of the United Kingdom, the snobbish attitude and reluctance to accept the result is it. Democracy in Britain is under serious threat and all because, David Cameron the Prime Minister who called for the vote in the first place did not foresee what might happen in the event of Brexit taking the majority of votes: and as if that were not enough, Mr. Cameron walked away from the whole mess leaving it in the hands of Theresa May, the current Prime Minister. What a gutless act, from someone who did not want Britain to leave the European Union in the first instance and even worse in the second instance, ran away like a spoilt child when he did not get the result he wanted. I can only hope that history remembers him as a complete coward. His gutless act of submission without further consultation or care for the damage the vote has done, has left millions of hard working Britons angry and hurt.
If that were not enough, just as in America came the anger from the non-voting twenty million, followed by their the distain and contempt for anyone who voted for Brexit. Following that, came the insults in every form on every kind of media platform. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and a plethora of other social media outlets were awash with all manner of rage and wretched exclamations from the defeated, “You don’t understand democracy!” What can I say? If only the vote had been a compulsory one with everyone eligible taking part, none of this would have happened: Brexit like Trump would have been no more than that clichéd ‘blip on the radar’. If you didn’t vote, and you do not want Brexit, you only have yourself to blame. Likewise, if you didn’t vote and you don’t like Mr. Trump, you too, only have yourself to blame.
Apparently, people who vote, don’t understand democracy. Perversely, the twenty million eligible Britons who didn’t vote and the one hundred and fifty million Americans who didn’t vote, do understand democracy. Oh sweet absurdity, come down from on high and make them see the error of their ways, failing that, bang it into their thick skulls with a big wooden mallet made preferably of Lignum Vitae; a good hard wood that will make sure the sense gets well and truly knocked into them.
For what it’s worth as an argument in favour of compulsory voting: I ask all you non-voters out there living in Western Democracies, “If electing the right president or the outcome of Brexit meant that much to you, why, oh why, didn’t you take part in the democratic process? Why, oh why, didn’t you exercise your right and responsibility to vote? If the people who voted don’t understand democracy; what, in the name of Western Democracy and all that it stands for, does that say about you?”
Apologies for the rhetoric!
Copyright (c) David Glyn Davies 2018.
The Oldest Democracy In The World
18th - 19th June 2012
The far right stares at the golden dawn,
They do not like the blacks,
The far left hate the Germans,
And refuse to pay their tax.
"We'll pick up the tab,
Don't you worry about that,
We'll let you beg at the entrance,
Upon The Acropolis's front door mat."
Socratese and Plato,
Their turning in their grave,
"Let them all drink Hemlock,
After their mighty rave!"
"In that retro disco,
On the water front,
Let the pillars tumble,
It's waste for them, not want."
"Like us, who sit and watch,
The debt is theirs forever,
With they ever clear it?"
Never, never, never!"
"Watch for the rolling Panza tanks,
Rumbling over the Agora,
That was once our meeting place,
Where learning is no more, ah!"
Copyright (c) David Glyn Davies 2014.