This piece is part of a series from Backbench exploring the US 2020 presidential election. To have your say and share your opinions on this defining moment for the US, email your pitches and articles to firstname.lastname@example.org.
To talk of an election as a solution is problematic. I am, by no means, attempting to diminish the light democracy can bring to the darkest of places and times. However, if polling day has the power to solve problems, is it not the last exercise of democracy that installed these very problems in the first place? And here we have our catch 22.
To place this responsibility in a citizen’s hands is a privilege, but also an immense responsibility. With the recent discourse on US democracy, voting systems and electoral maths we have forgotten that the US is also, at its heart, a republic. The people themselves don’t speak the language of policy but rather elect those who do. If we say elections solve problems, politicians have the power to get off scot free by citing the excuse that they were, in fact, elected.
This sentiment is inherently contradictory. To say the issue lies with the people is to say the problem with your car is the fuel. The fault cannot lie with very thing that keeps it running, or at least if it does then there is a much larger debate to be had than that of Republican verses Democrat.
Having said all this, we still have elections. Churchill famously said that democracies are the worst form of governance, except for all the other ones. With mere days left before November 3rd, there is something in the air this time around for the US with some states swinging between the red and the blue. Enter Georgia – the newly born purple state.
A purple state refers to a battleground state in a US election where voter consensus is up for grabs, where the Republican red and the Democrat blue mix to create a blurring of political intention. There are a few key players this time around with Florida, Pennsylvania and even Texas seen as going from red to blue. But, Georgia presents an interesting case.
The bible belt state has voted Republican since 1992 and before that it had a predominantly right leaning voter pattern. What if Georgia swings left and goes from red to purple to blue? And indeed, if the Democrats win both Senate races? For one, it will offer the women of Georgia some long awaited security.
Abortion. It’s an issue that divides Americans and silences many a conversation. When looking stateside, I am promptly reminded of the how very fortunate we are with our healthcare system in the United Kingdom. We can spend hours discussing policy and cuts, but at the end of the day if you are in trouble, the big picture is that you know you can get help without the fear of financial ruin. To make the point more relevant to this case, we have access to legal and safe abortions if this is what we choose. Of course, choice is the key word. The same cannot always be said for the women of Georgia.
I am actually only asking you to think back to July when a federal judge permanently struck down Georgia’s controversial six week abortion law as it violated the 14th Amendment of the U.S Constitution. The law stated that abortions could not occur after a heartbeat could be heard, which was perceived as usually occurring around the six week mark. The judge ruled it infringed upon the 1973 Supreme Court decision in the case of Roe v. Wade and and the 1992 decision Planned Parenthood v. Casey. To put this in perspective, this is 18 weeks less than the UK legal mark and according to Dr. Dana R. Gossett, the vice chair of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of California, most women do not even realise they are pregnant by this point. Before women are even aware of the situation they are in, their options disappear right in front of them.
Recently, Ruth Bader Ginsberg died and my heart broke. She left some very large shoes to fill in the Supreme Court that barely had time to grow cold before the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett. Her absence is to be filled by someone who will slowly but surely take the court to the right and look to reversing Roe v. Wade. Despite what the administration may be trying to prove, a woman in power is not inherently a feminist, especially when her plans likely restrict the choices of the rest of her gender.
These are not the only choices being restricted. In 2017, 10% of the state’s voters were simply erased from the rolls. The implementation of the “Use It or Lose It” law meant that over 500,000 were removed on a single July evening, some of whom are yet to be restore , as they had not recently participated in electoral decisions. Increasing voter engagement is important, but withdrawing voting rights as punishment is dangerous. Informing citiens they have a choice but they have to vote enters the philosophical debate of compulsory voting. But, adding the condition that failing to comply means the loss of franchise rights, is more fitting for a dictatorship. This election presents the ultimate paradox. It has the power to change everything and solve nothing simultaneously. Barton Gellman wrote for The Atlantic that this is the election that could break America, but this is generously optimistic. Democracy; it is the best of times and it is the worst of times.
The sentiment of Gellman’s analysis is, if a little delayed, on the money. The shining example of democracy is in need of a polish and one election will not fix the deep rooted turmoil, regardless of who wins.
100 years ago this decade was coined as the ‘roaring 20s’ for its glamour and innovation. Skip forward a century and the same raucous noise signals a new sentiment, as Americans turn inward to scream at each other over the realisation that the American dream is not yet a reality for all. The inclusion of Georgia in swing states discourse offers promise. The colour purple; more than literature and more than film, the implication that change may yet come.