Universal suffrage. Everyone gets a vote. Should they?

And, too often, I am appalled. In recent times, with politics high in the consciousness of just about everyone (Trump, 2020, Brexit, etc.,) I see and hear “ordinary” people telling a news reporter what they think, and why. And I am so often appalled by the resulting opinions, that I find myself muttering, “This undereducated, dim-brained, inarticulate nincompoop has a vote!? In a general election?!!! What the hell?”

Then I tell myself to stop being an overeducated, elitist snob, and that if we think that democracy is still a good idea, then it currently works if everyone who is qualified to vote, can do so. Universal suffrage is here to stay, and unless countries like Britain, the USA and other western-type democracies do away with it, it is part and parcel of the democratic process. But this does not stop me thinking that the democratic process and the systems within it are now seriously broken and that recent outcomes horribly demonstrate this.

The US Electoral College made it possible for a universally deployed vote to produce a many-millions majority in one candidate’s victory in counting the total popular vote, to be overturned and to hand the election and the presidency to her opponent. It might do it again in November this year. In Britain, the “first past the post” system by which, in a multi-field, multi-constituency General Election, the candidates who receive the most votes take the whole pot. This is a deep injustice, but every attempt to introduce some form of proportional representation is either loudly shouted down or quietly killed in dark rooms. The USA Primaries system is also desperately flawed in a similar way — the winner takes all the Convention delegate votes.

So we have Trump on one side of the Atlantic and Johnson on the other. The legality of their tenure is not in question because a combination of that universal right to vote, the way the votes are counted and the results applied are right there, in the law. But the legitimacy of their tenure is seriously in question.

In the USA, you have both the advantage and the disadvantage of a written Constitution. Advantage? You can refer to one place where the basic law which governs all laws is to be found. True — it is never quite that simple, because your Supreme Court is kept very busy, quite often, deciding what that Constitution actually says. Made somewhat more complicated by the sad fact that a Trump or any president can pack that Court with those who suit his political whim. So judges do, in effect, quite frequently, but indirectly, make the law. Disadvantage? You have to jump through almost impossible hoops in order to amend that Constitution, and ironically, this is one area where bare majorities are already outlawed.

Which takes me back to that universal franchise, and to the very concept of a representative democracy on which it seems to rest. I am, almost daily, really upset to watch and listen to people who are entitled to vote, but who do not seem to have any idea what they are voting for. That democracy is reduced to who can sell the biggest lies; who has the sheer damned cheek but the terrible ability to rise above the voting masses on the strength of their perceived charisma and rabble-rousing style. Hitler, anyone? That’s why I believe that we have to live with votes-for-all, but that we have to find a way to limit the outcomes of mass voting. And who are the “we” who should do this?

Overeducated, elitist snobs like me, of course. Who else?

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Broadcaster, academic, journalist, columnist, humorist. Show- off contrarian. Seriously centrist politics junkie. British Americanophile.

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Dr John Grierson

Dr John Grierson

Broadcaster, academic, journalist, columnist, humorist. Show- off contrarian. Seriously centrist politics junkie. British Americanophile.

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