Democracy Theatre and the Resulting Futility

Public turnout for elections has shrunk to an untenable level. We suggest that the reason for this is a widespread sense of futility.

More and more people see elections as a pointless exercise in choosing which undesirable candidate will get the privilege of doing the bidding of large moneyed interests.  And when candidates get into power, they forget the people who voted them in.

Invariably, candidates fail to live up to the promises they made during a campaign, and often do just the very opposite of what they promised

When they inevitably push their influence too far -- and the people respond with protests, marches, petitions and letter-writing campaigns -- those in power simply ignore, undermine or even violently repress them.

As a result, the public cannot help but conclude that there's no point in voting, since parties' platforms are promises made to be broken, and they're just going to do whatever they want anyway once they get into office. 

Magnifying the problem, excessive secrecy and overclassification are so rampant that, once they are in office, it is often impossible to even check whether our elected officials have put any real effort at all towards fulfilling these promises. As a result, the deficit in public information is so great that it threatens Democracy itself.

James Madison warned of what would happen if government is undermined in this way:

"A popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or, perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives."

This is the point we have reached: our democracy is a farce.

It is Democracy Theatre.

It's no wonder voter turnout is so low, in spite of the massive efforts to get people to the polls.

In short: The "Get Out the Vote" activists ultimately fail because their approach fails to account for the reality that the people who don't vote are the people who understand most clearly that we no longer live in a functioning democracy.

"Get Out the Vote" initiatives will continue to fail as long as they operate under the illusion that the cause is "voter apathy", without addressing the underlying issues that give rise to futilty and feelings of powerlessness. This means, simply, give people their power back:

a) Re-enable a free press;

b) Enable genuine access to information about what our officials are doing with all the money and power that we gave them -- no more games, playing hide-and-seek with overclassification and sending back FOIA requests covered in excessively blacked-out documents.  No more shuffling complaints to token watchdogs whose investigations are unaccountable and done in secret.

c) Provide meaningful and accessible forms of public engagement; and

d) Provide the public with a real voice again.

This is where Model Legislation comes in.  Model Legislation offers a way of codifying the changes that must be made, to fix these problems. It also offers a starting point for legislators to draft their own legislation to address these problems. Legislation is how public powers can be restored and how arbitrary executive power can be put in check, and Model Legislation can lead the way to this end.


2017 The Centre for Public Oversight