America’s Decisions Under A Magnifying Glass: Can We Really Rely On Our Fellow Citizens To Make Democracy Work

By Ryan Henson
Opinion Editor

It’s been several hundred years since James Madison cautioned the world’s first democracy against the dangers of a tyranny of the majority. In a democracy, such as the one we live in, there are checks and balances for a reason: to protect the rights of the nations various minorities, whether they be cultural, religious, intellectual or otherwise. Without such a carefully weighted system, the majority would exert its dominance regularly. If 60 percent of Americans think slavery isn’t such a bad idea, then they’ll vote into office people who think the same. These people will pass laws saying it isn’t the worst thing in the world if you’ve got a few unpaid hands or two around the sweatshop.

It doesn’t take a genius to see how that might not be the best thing for a society. Lucky for us, we have this thing called a constitution that tells us what we can and can’t do in the most generalized sense. Even luckier for us we have this other thing known as the Supreme Court that can say that things such as segregation and discrimination on the basis of the color of someone’s skin aren’t okay. It seems like a pretty awesome system right? Most of you will probably point out that it’s been working pretty well for us these 200 plus years we’ve been calling ourselves the United States of America.

Fair enough, but let’s return to Madison’s famous warning: Sometimes the majority needs to be told no, lest they start hanging homosexuals and telling atheists to head to the gas chambers. It seems like he and the other founding fathers worked pretty tirelessly to make sure this kind of thing didn’t happen. But the system they built wasn’t fool-proof, and democracy isn’t by any means flawless. I’ll tell you why: Democracy puts too much faith in its electorate to know what is in its, the public’s, best interest. I know what you’re thinking: “How can I have the audacity to say that the American people don’t know what’s best for them?” Well, people in general don’t seem to know what’s in their best interest: in fact they act almost compulsively against theirs and others greater good.

People make dumb decisions every day. Really dumb decisions. This is the Achilles heel of representative democracy: it relies on people. This is not to be mistaken for relying on individuals, who are often smart, rational, good intentioned and genuinely working for they own and others betterment. But people are fearful, passiondriven, primal, and impressionable, moved quickly to panic and even quicker to assume something as a given truth without close inspection. If people can’t be counted on to look closely enough to realize that taking out a loan to buy that $500,000 house isn’t really the best move for their $60,000 income, how can they be expected to make informed political decisions come election time?

I know that you’re thinking: how pretentious this is of me, how disgustingly prejudiced. But search your feelings; some dark, cynical and snide part of you is crying that I’m right and you can’t seem to shut him up. Just look at the meteoric rise of childhood obesity. People can’t even be responsible for the proper nutrition of their children, an aspect of their life that they are supposed to consider pretty important. It’s not like the information is not out there. In fact, these days health facts practically smack you in the face.

They’ve become unavoidable thanks to the tireless effort of the healthcare community, both private and governmental. It’s not that hard to look at the nutritional facts on your groceries when you’re buying them and it isn’t that hard to eat healthy. Sure, people might complain it’s more expensive but let’s face it, it is not by that much. Not by enough that you can’t possibly afford the bag of apples but you can afford the hungry man frozen mega steak.

If you are strapped for cash, siphon income from other things into buying better food. Don’t buy that 36-inch flat screen. Maybe wait a year to get that fancy new phone you think you can’t live without. Do you really need a new car this year? I’m not talking about the poorest of the poor here for whom you might make the successful argument that they are so desperately financially constrained that they are doomed to perpetual happy meals and chicken patties. I’m talking about the average American family that has options concerning their disposable income. And I’m just talking about food here, something that is among the easiest and most straightforward of our countries ailments to remedy.

Still here we are, with an epidemic that is apparent in every swollen seven-year-old wolfing down two burgers with fries and a soda each day in his under funded school cafeteria. Let’s not pretend that fixing it is hard either. It doesn’t take a P.H.D to feed their child well. Fats: they’re bad, especially the saturated ones. Sugar: also pretty bad; if it’s artificial lose it. Carbs: don’t eat too many and stick to the simple ones. Protein: get plenty. Veggies and fruit: lots, and if your kid complains well just tell him to suck it up. He’ll thank you later. I mean, just put the food pyramid on your refrigerator and act accordingly. You don’t even have to be that strict. The key is moderation, which makes it all the simpler. Tell me this isn’t so painfully obvious and I’m just one of the select few with the intellectual capacity to understand it. At least then it would be easier to conceive of the situation we find ourselves in as a culture and a nation.

The point of all this rambling and ranting is this: Democracy is a fragile house of cards indeed and it depends upon an educated and curious public to function to its full potential. But when citizens can’t even make smart decisions regarding there own and their children’s eating habits, how can they be expected to make smart decisions during elections that will decide our collective future as a nation?

March 4, 2011
Volume LXXXI Issue 17

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