This applies to our ongoing discussion of the nature and merits of democracy.
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In reality, our political system is far less democratic than it was a generation ago. Over the past 40 years, we’ve seen unions crushed, welfare gutted, higher education defunded, prisons packed to overflowing, voting rights curbed, and the rich made steadily richer while wages stagnated. It’s not the frustration of the people that should terrify us, but rather the legitimate sources of their frustration, which have so long gone unaddressed. Regular citizens struggling to make ends meet have almost nowhere to turn, nothing to join. We shouldn’t wonder that so many voters have seized on this election to make a statement, even a nihilistic one. To insist that the only solution is for the people to get back in line is to refuse to acknowledge that the “establishment” bears any responsibility for the conditions that created the public’s outrage in the first place.
There's no quick fix for this mess. If Hillary Clinton wins in November, it will be tempting to view the ballot-box refutation of Trumpism as a restoration of political sanity. But a Clinton presidency won’t fundamentally change the conditions that led millions of Americans to turn to Trump or Sanders. The only way out is the hard way—building democratic outlets for change patiently, on the ground. We have to build durable movements that support and advance the twin causes of racial and economic justice in a lasting and meaningful manner. And we have to acknowledge that protests are a necessary but insufficient ingredient for social change: They can be galvanizing and clarifying, but, just like political campaigns, they tend to be short-lived and don’t always translate into the sustained, strategic organizing efforts we need.
Above all, in spite of the reports of political chaos—and yes, even stupidity—that daily flood our inboxes and Twitter feeds, we must resist the call of the elites and the tug of the anti-democratic urge. Knee-jerk contempt for democracy—insulting those we disagree with as idiotic, as incapable or unworthy of civic trust and responsibility—has a long and ugly history in this country, where the Founding Fathers were nearly as democracy-averse as Plato, and certainly more hostile to the prospect of redistributing wealth. The non-propertied, non-male, and nonwhite have all had to battle for basic political inclusion—and then real political power—pushing against reactionary conservatives and anxious liberals alike. Our job now is to advance this democratic march, rather than retreat from it in fear. Before we write democracy off, we should at least truly try it.