In a scene from Tim Burton’s twisted satire Mars Attacks, the president of the United States (played by Jack Nicholson) tries to accentuate the positive on national TV after a band of ray-gun toting Martians zaps everyone present at a joint session of Congress. “We’ve still got two out of three branches of the government,” declares Nicholson, “and that ain’t bad!”
The scene came to mind last Wednesday morning as reality set in for us and the 56 million Americans who voted for a presidential change on November 2. We didn’t get it. President George W. Bush and his team won the election and, in fact, are now in control of “three out of three” branches of the government.
For the conservative majority … that ain’t bad.
It was 1831 when French philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville wrote his classic work Democracy in America, about a new system of government he felt was destined to replace the aristocracy, and it was democracy. Although he lauded many of the system’s good points, de Tocqueville was concerned about a democratic “tyranny of the majority.” He even wrote, way back then, that the re-election of a sitting president was especially worrisome in this regard, given the overwhelming power of majority opinion to enforce conformity.
Among other things, de Tocqueville doubted whether the majority of people in a democracy really could be counted on to protect the freedom of individuals and minorities. Hmm.
So, here we are—in this post-11/2/04 world—wondering about the very same thing. We worry about the Patriot Act being used to increase federal policing of those who criticize the majority opinion. We worry that free speech will be hampered. We worry that the huge red-state voting block that just won the White House and improved its majority in Congress will enforce so-called “moral values” by attacking gay rights and a woman’s right to choose. Nobody doubts that the Bush mandate has intricately to do with the ever-growing power of evangelical churches as political institutions.
For those of us who voted Democratic, it’s time to face the fact that we are not in the voting majority in this country—time to consider what can be done to fill the gap. For example, author Robert Reich has proposed that blue-state people start describing their positions (on the war, affirmative action, gay rights, health care, etc.) in moral terms rather than secular ones. Another option is to figure out a way—perhaps through arts, culture and the media?—to cross the massive political divide that exists between the urban and the rural, the college-educated and the non-college-educated. As we all know, that divide was powerfully evident on Election Day.
As for the Americans who say, “Love it or leave it,” we must reject the offer and instead announce that we’re going to love it and fight for it. Although we’re a minority, those of us who want change are still 56 million strong.
As Jack Nicholson said, that ain’t bad.