This is What Happens When You Live Under Minority Rule
And this continued inaction is how a government loses its legitimacy
Here is the unspeakable sadness: eighteen children and one teacher dead, in their elementary school classroom. Here was the unspeakable sadness last week: nine Black shoppers and one security guard dead, in their neighborhood grocery store. Also just last week: one man killed and five other Taiwanese worshippers wounded, in their beloved church.
This year, there have been 215 mass shootings — in which more than four people have been killed or wounded — in the United States. It is May, not even half way into the year. It is fucking May.
The act, the deaths — they are horrific. And the expanding sorrow is rooted in the ongoing realization that there will be no recourse. The cycle of anger will replay itself, as it has since 1999, and before it gradually subsumed by the next crisis. We can protest and gnash our teeth and rend our garments and nothing, nothing will be done. We know this, now, because nothing has been done. The lines have been too firmly drawn, the opposition too firmly entrenched. The Governor of Texas announced the death of fourteen children on the eve of his appearance at the NRA National Convention, held just hours away from the Uvalde.
To suggest someone channel their rage into voting feels like a laughable insult. I don’t mean we shouldn’t vote — of course we should, even in a state like Texas, gerrymandered to its gills with some of the most restrictive voting registration laws in the nation. But voting will not, at least for the foreseeable future, effect substantive national change.
The United States has always, in some capacity, been governed through some form of minority rule. But the last 22 years (and the last six in particular) have underlined just how difficult it is for the will of the majority to translate into policy or governmental action. It feels like the United States is regressing, but we’re actually just getting redrawn according to this minority group’s architectural renderings of a Christian Nationalist Theocracy. We’re free to pound on the doors (politely, of course, and certainly not in a way that would make any Supreme Court justice feel uncomfortable). But we’re stuck in the design. With all these motherfucking guns.
And there is no straightforward escape or immediate means to alter this design, because its fortitude is symptom of American democracy — the senate, the electoral college, the Supreme Court and its lifetime appointees — functioning as intended. The dilution of votes in cities is the point, and so long as the minority remains in power, it will continue to make laws (and judgments) that protect against its erosion. Voter registration campaigns are not enough. Reciprocal gerrymandering strategies, not enough. If, in a state like Idaho, you go through the initiative process to try and pass legislation (like Medicaid expansion) that’s actually popular, then the legislation will rewrite the laws to prevent it from ever happening again.
It’s not enough to live in a blue state. It’s not enough to try and send your kids to private school. It’s not enough to donate to an abortion fund. It’s not even enough to have money, or a home, or an education. Privilege can insulate you from the hostility of American society but it cannot ultimately save you from it. Collective and individual action feel impotent. The idea of representative democracy comes to feel like a farce.
I realize that all of this feels very nihilistic — a rotten and dangerous way of viewing the world. But it’s also a very understandable symptom of living under minority rule. “When the majority of a nation’s citizens can’t get its candidates elected or its preferred policies passed,” political scientist Seth Masket writes, “the government’s legitimacy is compromised and destabilizing pressure begins to build.”
Masket concludes that “when well more than half the country votes for one result — over and over — and continues to get another, the situation is unsustainable. This is how a government loses its legitimacy.” He notes that reform is possible: the constitution, after all, has indeed been amended. But again: that sort of reform requires the ruling, minority party opening itself to potential majority rule. And as any student of contemporary Republican rule can tell you: that is not happening. The “Turbulent ‘20s” have only just begun.
The feeling of abjection that arrives when there are no options for recourse, the simmering rage at the status quo, the desire to leave but the inability, for whatever reason, to actually do so — where does it go? In the hours immediately after the shooting, I felt it coalescing in a way I hadn’t before. There were no calls to vote, to call your representatives, to organize, to say never again. There was just acknowledgment: This is our normal. This is what we have chosen to allow. This is who we have become, and this is who we have been.
Voting, on its own, will not be enough to change that. We have to decide: what will be?
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