3 Things Killing American Democracy (That Aren't Trump)
Here's a promise: This article is not about Donald Trump. Instead, it's about how much more there is to American government than the Presidency. And I'd like to address that by talking about Batman.
Or about Superman. Or Marvel, or Harry Potter, or Ariana Grande. Whatever revs your engine, man. Because I want you to think about your favorite fandom. Whichever thing you're enthusiastic about dedicating your brainspace to, because you find it fun to think about.
And yes: The thing can be weird.
Have you picked a fandom yet?
You have? Great. Now let me tell you about mine.
My fandom is Batman. I spend my free time tracking boring news stories, on purpose, if they're about Batman. I dedicate my long-term memory to obscure historical information, if it's about Batman. I dress strangely in public to express my enthusiasm about Batman. I'll even dedicate myself to arguing with the entire world if I think it can change the direction we're going as a society ... Batman-wise.
Thanks for reading that paragraph. Now: Please reread that paragraph, and mentally replace the word "Batman" with "democracy."
Have you reread it that way yet?
You have? Great. Please remember that paragraph. We all need to reach a point where that paragraph describes us. We need to know about what's happening in our government, and vote accordingly. Because regardless of who got elected President this year, this election was a flat-out disaster for democracy. And its biggest disasters reflect our collective disinterest in anything that's not a big, flashy Presidential race.
Would you stop being so thrilling!!
Want proof? Here's the three things that went wrongest in the Election of 2016 ... and just a heads up: I'm going to unleash just an absolutely obscene amount of links.
The Senate Killed A Third Of Our Government, And We Re-Elected Them For It
I can't figure out how this wasn't the biggest story of 2016:
Why did it get drowned out? Was OPERATION PRESIDENT-WAR-'16POCALYPSE that noisy? Regardless of the reasons, something distracted us from these facts:
-The United States Government has three branches.
-The Executive Branch (a.k.a. the cool branch) nominates new judges.
-Judicial nominees get approved or rejected by the Senate, which is part of the Legislative Branch (boring branch).
-Those two branches have to eventually agree on a judge, otherwise the Judicial Branch (robe-y branch) can't function.
In early 2016, Justice Antonin Scalia died. President Obama promptly nominated a replacement. And Senators led by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to approve or reject the nomination. They claimed to be "following a long standing tradition of not filling vacancies on the Supreme Court in the middle of a presidential election year." That is a "tradition" they made up. It's not a thing. They lied about it. Openly. So openly, our most distinguished Senators didn't even pretend to plan on fulfilling that "tradition" if the election results had two X chromosomes.
The word "distinguished" is nightmarishly flexible.
The Senate hijacked the Supreme Court. Permanently. And that is terrifying. It's so terrifying that Justice Clarence Thomas spoke out against it, and Clarence Thomas speaks as often as trees do. He told anyone who'd listen that "we have got to recognize that we're destroying our institutions." Yet Senators like Richard Burr made sabotaging our justice system a point of personal pride. Gosh darn that Richard Burr. Darn Richard Burr to heck.
Oh, right, no one knows who that is. This is United States Senator Richard Burr:
The state of North Carolina re-elected him this November. During his campaign, crowds applauded him for saying he'd obstruct any Hillary Clinton Supreme Court nominee. And with that power flowing through him, he started un-humblebragging:
" is not tough for me," added later. "I had the longest judicial vacancy in the history of the United States -- on the Eastern District of North Carolina. Not many people know that."
Yes, Senator! Not many people know that! Most people do not know you deprived half your state of a functional justice system for most of a decade.
Maybe they only know your stand-up material?
Because most people don't follow politics beyond the Presidency. That's why pollsters predicted voters in 2016 would pull the Senate lever matching their Presidential vote.
And even though pollsters blew it with the Electoral College, I'd say their Senate logic was dead on. Only two Senate seats switched parties this year. In both cases, Democrats won Senate seats in Hillary states. And as for the rest of the country ...
All five states also went to Trump.
Now President Obama must let Republicans hijack our Constitution, or borderline hijack it himself. All because voters in 31 or 32 states did not hold the Senate accountable. They maintained its Republican obstruction and Democratic helplessness. Only two incumbents in all of America paid a (probably Trump-based) price for reducing a whole branch of our government to a political football. Everybody else keeps getting that sweet sweet Congressional Obamacare. And speaking of which ...
Both Sides Of The Obamacare Debate Are Going To Get Let Down
I can't figure out how this wasn't the biggest story of late 2016:
I also can't figure out why the media framed James Comey's October Surprise For Funsies Letter as the #1 thing hurting Hillary Clinton's numbers down the stretch. The Obamacare premium hike, a real story that hit people in the wallet, happened that same week!
Donald Trump campaigned on a full immediate repeal of Obamacare. With one kind-of exception, Trump's primary opponents ran on that same exact promise.
Some of them PASSIONATELY.
Other Republican candidates joined them on that quest. And voters loved it. Republicans took over the White House, Congress, and most state governments. Exit polls showed 81 percent of Trump voters think Obamacare "went too far." And boy, they must be so relieved to know this country is finally-
Welp. That took three days.
But I know, I promised you this article isn't about Donald Trump. Don't worry. It still isn't. This part of the article is about voters who ignored every level of government below the White House. In particular, the level eight hours west of the White House.
Pro tip: I-64 can get traffic-y.
Matt Bevin became Kentucky's new governor in their 2015 election (an odd year! kooky!). A Tea Party Republican, Bevin ran on dismantling Kentucky's best-in-the-nation Obamacare exchange, and also rolling back Medicaid. And after riding into office on that pledge, he got right down to-
Okay so he did eventually end Kentucky's state exchange. It took Gov. Bevin all year to do that. And now, as of November 2016, Kentuckians must ... use the federal exchange. Which is, ya know, still pretty much Obamacare.
"Yeah but I changed people's web bookmarks, so."
He also hasn't rolled back Medicaid. Because he can't, and maybe shouldn't. And I'm wondering how many people outside of Kentucky have heard about this. If America's "repeal Obamacare!" voters knew about the state that tested that out, they'd have known national Republicans can't deliver what they promised. There are still enough Senate Democrats to filibuster any major Obamacare changes. Also no one knows if repealing Obamacare would shrink premiums any better than keeping it does. And it's no accident that Governor Bevin's approval rating cratered when he started dismantling Kentucky health care, then perked back up when Bevin backed off.
"I don't want to get FIRED, man. I'd lose my insurance!"
Now it's looking like Republicans will settle for messing with Obamacare. It's obvious why: they ran on killing what they can't kill, but need some kind of trophy to fool people with. But that would leave both pro- and anti-Obamacare folks unhappy, if not in a worse insurance situation than before. It depends how they monkey with it. It's all up in the air.
"We will fix the healthcare market by implementing the thing ALL markets love: lots of uncertainty!"
And worst of all, that compounding public anger about our health care system, on both sides, will get directed at ... whoever a Facebook meme tells people to hate.
Technology And Social Media Are Going To Keep Failing Us
Here's something you might be realizing about me: I'm part of the Batman fandom and the democracy fandom.
You're allowed to have lots of fandoms!
I'm earnestly interested in how government works (or doesn't work lololol amirite). Finding out how we run our country excites my brain. And information drives that excitement. So it bothers me whenever I fire up the ol' internet box and see stuff like this:
Because in 2016, Facebook became Fake News Mordor. Their service is the main way almost half of American adults consume news. Meanwhile, monsters like this guy and this fraudulent "Denver newspaper" and these hundreds of pro-Trump scammers in Macedonia churned out exciting internet lies all year. And the lies spread faster and farther than facts, because Facebook verifies nothing.
If most voters went into the voting booth with a head full of misinformation, that is a tragedy, no matter who they voted for. And we can't let that happen again. Luckily our Silicon Valley tech executives are noble philosopher kings, full of civic spirit, who recognize this problem and-
... who are going to deny this problem exists. And deny it even as their employees try to fix it, without company approval. Partly because upper level Facebook management discussed this problem since the summer ... and did nothing. Allegedly they even coded a fix for the News Feed algorithm, with safeguards to remove the horse hockey. But then they didn't implement that fix because most of what it removed was conservative, and Facebook brass feared getting called "biased."
"Let he who has never been cuck-shamed throw the first Pepe."
What infuriates me the most is that fixing this problem would be easy. I know Facebook isn't altruistic enough to turn off the News Feed. That's where the money is. But why not hire a News Feed editorial staff? Ya know, like the staff they used to have? Facebook's human curators drastically raised News Feed's truth level, until they were fired, in the super not-crucial-at-all month of August 2016.
Other idea: Facebook could fix the News Feed algorithm. Apparently it's so easy to tweak, college kids coded a working fake news fix in a day and a half.
Will those danged millennials kill everything???
But let's face it: Silicon Valley isn't going to do something decent for once. If that was in their DNA, Twitter wouldn't be Worse Mordor, and Apple would quit creepin' on your phone calls. That means we have to protect ourselves. Protecting ourselves means knowing about this stuff. And I don't know if you have any ideas for how to get America up to speed. (If you do, please tweet 'em at me!) But my best idea, right now, is to make American democracy at least half as interesting as which Green Lantern Corps member will be in the Justice League movies, which Mother Of Dragons will smooch Han Solo, and which sick dunks deserve the top trending spot on social media.
Surprise! This article has sports in it.
Alex Schmidt is a Staff Video Writer for Cracked, with a Twitter and a newsletter and why are you still reading this BUY A SUBSCRIPTION TO A NEWSPAPER.
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