Meet the real people who killed democracy in America

On a regular basis since November 2016, journalists have been parachuting into Trump country to see if Trump supporters still like the guy. Of course, they do. That’s not surprising.

But few stories have concentrated on who’s needed to elect people to office these days: people who don’t bother voting — the people who believe their lives are so disconnected from public policy, that the effort isn’t worth their time.

So the Washington Post parachuted in this week to a county with the lowest turnout in a state that regularly has among the lowest turnouts, in a country that has among the lowest rates of voting — Montgomery County, Tenn.

In the last big election, only 42 percent of eligible voters bothered; they had something else to do, apparently.

“I just don’t feel I can change politics,” Austin Bailey, a 25-year-old libertarian, says. “Or, if I could help change it, I’d just be voting for someone whose solutions I don’t agree with.”

Austin’s not going to vote in next month’s election either.

“For every one thing I like about a politician, there are 10 things I don’t like. Take Trump, I like his tax cuts but then he’s jacking up the deficit . . . it’s trading off one evil for another. . . . I’ll just stay at home and not have my blood pressure raised.”

Austin is not alone.

Tennessee has its share of voter suppression laws, but few of those interviewed cited them as a reason for staying home.

Their general theme? “Why bother?”

“I just think that it’s a waste of my time,” said Leo Meeks, 39.

Just another stupid citizen? No. Leo has a college degree and everything. In political science.

“Because whoever’s going to get into office is not going to be influenced based on what my goals are or what my needs are or what the public’s needs,” he said. “It’s going to be driven by capitalism, by big companies. . . . Money controls.”

But it’s also true that counties with the lowest rates of voting tend to be less educated and more impoverished.

Still, we’ve struggled to come up with a compelling answer to the question: “Why bother?”

“I don’t know who to believe or who not to believe when it comes to the president and senators and Washington and this and that. I just put it all in God’s hands,” said Mike Rittenberry, an ex-felon who has never explored having his voting rights restored, the Post says. “I know God is really the one who’s running this country. I really believe God has placed President Trump there for a reason.”

God, apparently, hates democracy.

“I’m one of those people who believes if you don’t vote, you can’t criticize, because you don’t put your voice in,” said a 27-year-old who usually votes Republican. “But now I’m done with it. This time I don’t want to put my voice in.”

The American Experiment has failed. Doomed by Americans.

  • MrE85

    It would be an interesting social experiment to propose making all forms of voting in Montgomery County, Tennessee illegal. Any resident who attempts to vote would be fined or jailed.

    Sometimes you have to threaten to take away a right before people realize how precious it is.

    • MikeB

      Vote as if your cable TV depends on it

      • NG

        *snort* Lol!

  • The Resistance
    • Young citizens are the least inclined to vote.

      • The Resistance

        That has always been the case. I don’t think that means the American Experiment has failed and we’re doomed.

        • Nobody ever has.

          • The Resistance

            I don’t understand.

      • seedhub

        True, but young citizens are also more inclined to vote today than they have been in any recent election year.

        We’ll see how it actually works on November 6, since roughly 7% of young voters who say they’ll vote don’t. But it’s a trend worth noting.

        • chlost

          Oh, I hope so. Depending on them to change this crazy place.

    • Rob

      //chronic pessimism//?
      Sounds more like clear-eyed realism to me

  • Mike

    It wasn’t ordinary people who killed it. The oligarchy and their enablers in government and the press (not all press, but much of it) killed it. Ordinary people have just caught on to the racket of the two-party system and are declining to participate in the charade anymore.

    The Money Party is what typically wins elections, regardless of whether it’s represented by a D or an R.

    • Jack Ungerleider

      I’m not sure I go with the term Oligarchy. I prefer plutocracy, the moneyed interests controlling the system. But in order to control the system they need our assistance at voting time. I’ve often believed that over the last 30-40 years the plutocrats have divided into two camps: The law and order plutocrats and the social justice plutocrats. Each camp co-opted one of the existing major parties and fund the candidates that they want to represent their side.

      • kat


      • Rob

        We had a corpocracy before T.Rump. Now, we have a Kronyist, Kleptocratic Kakistocracy.

      • X.A. Smith

        They need our assistance, and NOT voting assists the anti-democratic forces more than anything. There is a nationwide movement to suppress voter turnout. The “law and order” side is fine with having amoral criminals run everything.

    • RBHolb

      That is an excuse, not a reason. It’s lazy thinking to dismiss the as a “racket” and a “charade,” and then retreat into a secure little cocoon of grumbling.

      Does government not affect us? Is there no reason to choose between Oligarch A, who wants to slash Social Security, and Oligarch B, who wants to preserve it? They’re both oligarchs, but they are going to return different results, depending on which oligarch is in office (would President Hillary Clinton have appointed Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court?). No candidate is ideal–nothing created by humanity is ever going to be ideal–but there is a level of “less-than-ideal” we have to tolerate.

      Maybe the system is controlled by oligarchs/kelptocrats/kakistocrats. I’m not arguing that point. My point is saying that and giving up is just wrong. What good is sitting elections out going to do about that? The same people retain power, emboldened by the fact that so many are not going to do anything about them. Vote, but don’t let that be the end of it. Write letters, send e-mails to candidates and officials, go to public meetings and be a pain in the ass. Democracy will be killed by the laziness of citizens. Staying at home and kvetching about oligarchs makes you an accessory to the murder.

      • Mike

        For what it’s worth, I (almost) always vote, though often for third parties. Democrats seem to have a bigger problem with that than Republicans in my experience, despite the former constantly banging on about “diversity.”

        Therefore, I’m not arguing for non-voting – merely pointing out that often it changes very little, and that the purported importance of voting is usually oversold. In our system, if you don’t have either money or influence, no one cares what you think.

        On foreign policy in particular, voting for either Democrats or Republicans gets you not a dime’s worth of difference, as both parties are wholly owned subsidiaries of the military industrial complex and imperialism.

        • NG

          Something I’ve heard on MPR that I find quite true: voting has a larger impact on state and local elections, but those are the ones people know least about. School board, mayor, and such. At a national level, it is possible to have minority rule because of the representative republic system in place. State and local elections are more of a direct democracy.

        • Jay T. Berken

          “In our system, if you don’t have either money or influence, no one cares what you think.”

          But you have one vote! Franken won by 320 some votes! Trump won by 20,000 some votes in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. The margins are smaller then you think.

          Don’t ever downplay your power of the one person, one vote! That is very dangerous mindset.

      • NG

        “No candidate is ideal–nothing created by humanity is ever going to be ideal–but there is a level of “less-than-ideal” we have to tolerate.” This is a good thought. Tragically, “compromise” is a bit of a swear word these days. The fight between left and right has always needed balance and a blurring of the lines, because reality is somewhere in the middle. Demonization of “other” and entrenched purist ideals have put a sharper line down the middle.

  • Guest

    Same thoughts exist in the highest voter turnout county. It is not the effort, it is the hope it all matters.

  • S_

    The author of this article is part of the problem.

    • kat

      That is a terribly depressing article

      • S_

        Don’t listen to the author. He is wrong. It is unfortunate someone like him has such a large platform.

        • Got a name “S”?

          It’s OK. This isn’t a hit-and-run comment section. It’s OK to participate with intelligent discussion and a logical perspective on those things with which you disagree.

          • S_

            Yes. It is Spencer

      • BeyondThePail

        The article exemplifies the notion that one’s act of voting should be viewed entirely through the frame of, “What’s in it for me?” The concept of democracy derived entirely out of, “What’s in it for us?” Unless we return to thinking of the latter, this whole thing will continue its collapse. If it weren’t for the existence of the larger superpowers ready to pounce I might think collapse and rebuild is the better answer. But I don’t see a way out of this yet.

    • seedhub

      I made it as far as the third paragraph: “That November I supported Bob Barr, the Libertarian candidate, because I liked his mustache.”

      If that’s how you made decisions at age 18, I’m not all that interested in what you have to say at age 28.

  • kat

    An ongoing problem- lack of responsibility. I kept an article from 2016 because it has a few points to try to push through the psychology that there is no point in voting

  • Kellpa07

    My side lost, so that must mean democracy is dead.

    • MrE85

      In this instance, that statement is absolutely correct.

    • That would only be true if only one side were in favor of democracy and if only one side didn’t vote. But, again, this is a particular area of the country where your side dominates and people feel the democratic process is broken, not because of who won. Clearly they aren’t making political party distinctions.

      What allows this to grow is the kneejerk reaction to dismiss the evidence of the disconnect as a partisan issue. It clearly is not.

  • Barton

    “I just put it all in God’s hands.”

    God gave us free will, why don’t these people bother to use it??

  • lindblomeagles

    You know, the problems with America in general are a) we don’t appreciate how hard it is to build a nation, b) we haven’t experienced a nation’s collapse to anarchy, and c) we don’t truly understand what public policy is. Let me please explain what I’m talking about. America is derived from Great Britain, England. But before English colonists set out to create America, the English themselves had a long bloody, ruthless history trying to build first their country, and then their Empire. We Americans got into two pretty quickly decided fights with England (the American Revolution and the War of 1812). The English people slowly fought against the divine right of kings since the Magna Carta in the 1200s, and didn’t receive what we would consider republicanism until the mid to late 1600s themselves. Today, we look upon China with suspicion and Turkey with discomfort. The Chinese and Ottoman Turkish Empire has been powerful for hundreds of years. But by the end of the Boxer Rebellion, the Chinese Empire was no more, and it took their fall in World War II to Japan for them to see that. The Turkish Empire was expelled by the start of World War I, and still hasn’t recovered its glory. We’ve never experienced anything like that here, and thus, many of us take for granted the democracy we have today, and they stop voting, or they celebrate Trump’s love affair with leaders who assault news reporters. Lastly, public policy was never meant to give each and every citizen everything they wanted because sometimes the things we think we want, singularly, are not good for the public at large. Take for example, the person who thinks Social Security should end. That person may well have worked hard for his comfortable pension and retirement fund. But what about the millions of senior citizens who haven’t? Where will they go? And can everybody’s family really take care of them? We have some families that can’t take care of themselves, let alone, an elderly or disabled, or sick parent. We, in America, have become too used to thinking and working alone, that we have forgotten a society’s main role is to help us work together.

    • Angry Jonny

      That, and buffalo wings. Seriously. WTF.

  • NG

    Sort of a a sad out look. *sigh* there is one axiom that I can cling to I guess. “This too shall pass.” Or, maybe it won’t and we’ll get a string of similar reality TV egoists in the presidency.

    • Rob

      It shall soon pass – like a kidney stone.

  • merry_rose

    Fortunately my son texted us a couple of weeks ago concerned that he hadn’t seen his absentee ballot show up at college. We hadn’t said anything about voting absentee to him, but clearly he’s taken note that my husband and I always make time to vote, no matter the election.

    Turned out that his ballot was waiting at the college mail center, he just hadn’t seen it yet. I’m glad that he’s taking his first chance to vote seriously.

  • Credit Warrior

    I live in Mn near Little Rock Lake. I been retired about 8 1/2 years. I haven’t voted in a national election since the 1st Bush. I voted in the national/state/local elections for decades beginning in the mid 60’s. I continue to vote in state and local elections. I decline to participate federal politics as the candidates promises are rarely kept and they seem more about staying in power and pleasing those that have the power or money. Would love to see term limits and a limit on the money spent on all of the ads for their elections. Seems like a waste of money that could be spent on so many things needed in this country.