Malcolm X once said, “Just because a cat has kittens in the oven, that doesn’t make them biscuits.”
Brother Malcolm’s sentiments should apply to our thinking about democracy in the American Empire. We are told that we live in a democracy, but that does not make it so.
Plutocracy may be more accurate. That the wealthy dominate our politics cannot be gainsaid. We have the best government their money can buy.
Oligarchy may be more accurate. Small groups of connected elites cycle in and out of our politics and policy is designed by them for them.
Kleptocracy may be even more accurate. History is irrefutable. The land and labor that built this experiment were taken by force.
To this day, those without power can hardly hold on to land they own if powerful people find it desirable. In 2022, laborers suffer under gutted wages and many of the workers who sustain our communities cannot afford to live in them.
Kakistocracy, governance by the least qualified and most ruthless, may be most accurate. It seems that the least competent have been thrust forward to lead. And rapid has been our descent.
I cannot call the American “kitten” a democratic biscuit. The hallmark of democracy is that citizens are empowered to elect representatives to govern on their behalf. That does not happen universally in the U.S.
Gerrymandering eliminates the power of the vote, as politicians choose the people instead of the people choosing the politicians.
Many states are enacting laws that make it more difficult to vote. Discredited claims of voter fraud weaken an already fragile system that is controlled at local levels by states not known for their commitment to universal suffrage.
Let’s be clear. Those who founded this nation did so for propertied white males. No one else need apply. We who are not wealthy white men must fight so hard to be recognized as citizens because this system was never designed to recognize us as such.
America is not broken. America is working the way it was designed to work – to exclude the many and to return power to the few.
America’s founders used the vaunted language of democracy, yet their definition of democracy was so contorted as to be unrecognizable.
Case in point, they engineered the United States Senate, among the most anti-democratic legislative bodies in the world, to ensure that rural interests and the interests of enslavers would prevail at the national level.
This parent body produced a bouncing baby we call the filibuster, designed to keep anything that looks like justice (emancipation, voting rights) from thriving. We know this, yet we have not changed the system.
The Senate is where democracy goes to die. The current 50 Democratic senators represent nearly 42 million more citizens than the current 50 Republican senators.
This anti-democratic malapportionment seals the deal for those who intend to keep James Madison’s dream alive. Said Madison, “The Senate ought to represent the opulent Minority — If this is not done the System cannot be durable.”
The opulent minority never wanted me to accompany my beautiful, Black parents to the voting booth in the 1980s in my hometown of Macon, Georgia.
I recall those halcyon days of marching into the gymnasium/precinct with them, my siblings and me in tow. They would pull the curtain, cast their ballots, and we would be on our way to our grandparents’ home.
I was loved, happy, warm and well-fed. I had no idea that walking in and out of that place in peace as a family was revolutionary.
Forty years later, my parent’s grandchildren’s voting rights are less protected than theirs were in the age of Reagan.
Indeed, it could be said that this was the purpose of the age of Reagan. John Roberts and Samuel Alito worked to whittle away universal suffrage in Reagan’s Justice Department. They now chisel them away on the Supreme Court.
The protection of voting rights in this nation is a new concept. The harsh backlash that we are witnessing against universal suffrage is not un-American. It is more American than Lee Greenwood singing “God Bless the U.S.A.” while drinking Coke and eating a hot dog.
Astute readers of U.S. history saw this coming. And literal and policy violence are just beginning.
White demographic anxiety – stoked by mendacious political leaders, funded by plutocrats and made holy by white evangelicals – will not go quietly into that good night.
But neither will I. Neither will we. We will fight. God is on our side. Truth and justice are on our side.
I believe that a democratic revolution is possible in this land that has never been truly committed to democracy. But only if we, who share this vision, are willing to give our all for the other, instead of living like life is a zero-sum death match.
This kitten is no biscuit, but I will vote and struggle for what we can be. Yet, I am as clear as Jan. 6 about what America is.
Editor’s note: This article is part of a series this week calling attention to Black History Month. The previous articles in the series are:
Democracy Remains a Dream, Voting Rights a Nightmare | Starlette Thomas
Defending the Vote for All Citizens | Jeffrey Haggray
Until Someday Is Today: Continuing the Fight to Protect Voting Rights | Leslie Copeland-Tune
Pastor of Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C. He previously served Turner Memorial AME Church in Maryland and three churches in Florida: Monticello, Orlando and Jacksonville. He is a former managing director at Leadership Education at Duke Divinity.