The word “gerrymander” has been around for over two centuries. It entered the language in 1812, after Governor Elbridge Gerry’s Democratic-Republican Party (yes, that was one party – Jefferson’s – in those days) redrew the electoral map to ensure its continued dominance in the Massachusetts senate. That effort took such creative mapmaking that one district looked like a salamander, and the name stuck.
It’s still around, and several respondents to my last post point to it as one root of our current problems. “Only thing we need to blow up,” wrote one “are gerrymandered congressional districts.” Others named the corrosive power of money, the deadly sin of greed, and the enormous power of lobbyists over the entire legislative process. Some pointed to the two-party system itself:
“Imagine how you feel when reading about the Olympics and the soccer World Cup,” one wrote. “The corruption and bribe taking are disgraceful, but they do put on a good show. Compare to the election duopoly where the bribe taking and corruption are at least as disgraceful, and they don’t even put on a respectable show. The election duopoly gets away with it because they pit Rs against Ds. It should be us against them.”
“Gaming the system,” wrote another, “is a thoroughly human impulse, and the US political system has been ‘gamed’ since its inception; but the current sophistication of the efforts – using the rules and procedures meant to protect democracy in order to manipulate it – have become truly alarming.” He cites Alexis de Tocqueville: “The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public’s money.”
Perhaps that day has arrived, but “’just blowing it up’ is not a strategy,” another reader insisted. “We live in a world where we have to make choices among imperfect alternatives.” And things have been worse, many noted – after all we did endure a bloody civil war; we enslaved an entire people and kept them down long after emancipation had come; we exploited the labor of children and denied equal rights to women.
Perhaps when we can acknowledge our own imperfect history, we can return to the hard work of building a more equitable nation, instead of wringing our hands.
And we can ponder the words of this reader: “I think that, before dreaming about blowing up America’s institutions, a youthful idealist might visit one of the many countries where political systems scarcely function at all.”