Grieving the Loss of Democracy
By John T. Schwiebert, MDiv
Most of us, when we speak of grief, usually think first of the loss that we experiences when a beloved human being or pet dies. But grief is also the normal response to any kind of loss, including (1) the loss of a something good that once was and is no more, or (2) the loss of something longed for but never realized.
For some time I have been aware of the failing health of American democracy—i.e. government of the people, by the people and for the people. But now, if two recent studies are correct, democracy in America is already dead and gone. As much as I would like to deny these reports, my experience with grief tells me that I must face this loss as real, start making tear soup, and seek the consolation of others who also share this grief. We will need to be together in this time of mourning as we figure out how to get on with our lives minus the American democracy that once was but is no more (or something longed for but never attained).
The first study comes from political scientists Martin Gilens of Princeton University and Benjamin Page of Northwestern University. From the study they conclude that “majorities of the American public actually have little influence on the policies our government adopts,” and “policymaking is dominated by powerful business organizations and a small number of affluent Americans.” In other words what we have left in America today is government by the minority rule by a few rich people!
The second study reveals the result of a scientific poll by the Russell Sage Foundation that compares the opinions of persons (called the “elite” in the survey) whose annual income is more than $1 million, with the opinions of the American public at large. It confirms what Gilens and Page learned from their analysis.
For example when asked if the federal government should make sure that everyone who wants to go to college can do so, 78% of Americans said yes, but only 28% of elite Americans said yes. When asked if the minimum wage should be high enough so that no family with a full-time worker falls below the poverty line, 78% of Americans said yes, but only 40% of elite Americans agreed. When asked whether the government’s top policy priority should be protecting the jobs of American workers, a whopping 81% of Americans said yes while only 29% of the elite concurred with that objective. Clearly it is what a small elite group wants, not what the majority of Americans favor, that Congress delivers (or does not deliver) through the legislation it passes on to the President for approval.
This reality that we are left with is a crying shame—an occasion for deep grief. Like all grief, we can get beyond it and find new possibilities for creating a just society on the other side. But the only way to get beyond grief over the loss of democracy is to go through it.
When going through grief over loss of what could be but isn’t I personally find it helpful to turn to the One who brings life out of death and with whom all things are possible. We may have suffered the loss of democracy to elites and oligarchs. But God still has even better plans for the human race and therein lies our hope!
We grieve, but not “as those who have no hope!” (1 Thessalonians 4:13)