Posted on: March 25, 2022 Posted by: Glacier Staff Comments: 0

Graphic by Sarah Schudt

By Jenna Abusalim, JRN 111 Student

The basic definition of democracy is government by the people, where the majority rules on important issues. But the reality in America is not that simple, according to Moraine Valley’s Kevin Navratil and DeWitt Scott.

Scott and Navratil discussed the complex nature of our democracy and how it plays out in important issues on March 22 during the virtual event,  “Why doesn’t the majority always rule: How America’s political system can thwart the will of the people.” The WebEx event was part of a series called “Difficult Conversations” being held by Navratil, political science professor, and Scott, student support specialist.

“A large majority of Americans may prefer a particular policy, but it doesn’t get enacted,” said Navratil.

Navratil used the example of gun control to illustrate how public opinion doesn’t always translate into government action: “Ninety percent of Americans support universal background checks, yet legislation has stalled out multiple times for the past decade.”

Graphic by Sarah Schudt

Scott agreed, pointing out that the topic of background checks comes up whenever there’s a mass shooting: “We hear that call every time there’s a national tragic event, a large number of people, just bystanders who are injured or killed.”

But the government doesn’t always listen to public opinion, so people often stop speaking up because they see no change.

Navratil, who coordinates the college’s Democracy Commitment program, hosts these events in hopes of enlightening and creating a change, while recognizing just how divided America is. The “Difficult Conversations” initiative is meant to model ways to hold civil discussions on controversial topics.

Throughout the conversation, Navratil and Scott encouraged viewers to take the stage and add thoughts on the topic whether opposing or agreeing with their views. They wanted to hear other opinions and create a safe space for their audience to chime in.

As the event went on, the chat filled up with questions and comments. Professor Jeffrey McCully raised the point: “What about the Supreme Court? Five of the nine were appointed by a president that didn’t win the popular vote.”

Navratil agreed that this was an example of a way the system was not representing the majority of Americans. He pointed out that the three Supreme Court members appointed by President Donald Trump, who didn’t win the popular vote, were all in their early 50s, “so hypothetically, we’ve got three more decades” with these justices making key decisions about our country.

Another way our democracy seems to thwart the will of the people is by putting restrictions on voting, Navratil and Scott say.

“Making it easier for people to vote…it’s something that never really materializes when it comes to policy,” Scott said. “In some places, it’s becoming even more difficult for people to vote, which seems counterintuitive when you think of a democracy.”

Navratil pointed out that the framers of the Constitution did not actually have much faith in the general public, as they felt they were not intellectual enough on worldly issues. They built a lot of anti-democratic features into our system.

Playing Devil’s Advocate, he said, “We’re still pretty uninformed on a lot of complex technical issues, and perhaps it’s not the best system to just consult the Average Joe or Sally American and take their views on what we should be doing on trade and going to war and so forth.

“The other side of that is then you can have politicians who pretty much run amok,” he went on to say, “and that becomes really dangerous.”

Navratil and Scott discussed how the role of money in our campaigns limits lots of potentially qualified candidates. When potential candidates don’t have funds to back up their campaigns, it becomes discouraging going against people with deep pockets.

“We have passed laws to limit the role of money in campaigns, and elections,” Navratil said.

Scott and Navratil agreed that election day should be made a holiday, where everyone is off of school and work so that citizens will have the time to go vote. They emphasized the importance of voting and taking advantage of the things an individual has power over.

“Many young people today are losing faith in the political process,” Scott said. He said many young people between the ages of 18 and 30 don’t see a need to vote because they believe their vote will not change anything.

Scott said election day makes people feel divided because it has started to feel like Democrats and Republicans are enemies of one another, which creates tension that shouldn’t be there.

At the end of the one-hour conversation, Navratil made sure to gather any comments and concerns from the viewers. He addressed them individually and made sure to cover every single one, not minding going overtime.

The next “Difficult Conversation” will be on the topic, “Do college campuses have a problem with cancel culture, ‘wokeism,’ and free speech?” It will take place via WebEx on April 5 from 1-2 p.m. Anyone can join the event by using this link.