The People Are Voiceless

Voters cast their ballots at the Dodge YMCA in the Brooklyn borough of New York City on November 8, 2022. (Photo by Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images)

Before I get to the new stuff, let’s review my case for democracy.

Democracy guards against bad outcomes, but it in no way guarantees good outcomes. I think virtually everyone who thinks seriously about politics and democracy understands this to one extent or another. But virtually no one involved in politics says this sort of thing out loud. Instead, they talk about how elections are the “voice of the people.” 

Again, I am all for giving people a voice. Here the people rule and all that. I just don’t like, or agree with, a lot of the poetry that comes with this stuff. (Voice can mean a lot of different things, of course. But in this context, it means voting and not, say, telling a Bakersfield City Council that their hearing room security proposals are excessive because we can just “murder you” at your homes.)

The worst rhetoric about democracy is of the sort when the election results—decisive though they may be—prompt people to say things like “the people have spoken.” Such statements are virtually never true. In any given elections, even in a landslide, somewhere around a quarter to a third of “the people” voted for someone else. And a vast number of people didn’t vote at all. Are they not part of “the people” too? Do you not have the same rights and dignity regardless of whether you voted for the winning side in some election?

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