I bet rarely would people respond that they feel well-represented in government. I know I’m not well-represented when I long for a revolution in renewable energy but one of my senators is the guy who thinks snowballs in winter refute anthropogenic global warming. I can’t count on that guy to represent my world view in Washington. That’s okay (well, not really), but he’s my senator not my puppet. It would be weird if he was in lockstep with me.
I’m into even wackier stuff, too. I want to see aggressive campaigns to help slow human population growth. While I’m a fan of economic strength, I’m not a fan of economic growth – I’d prefer a steady-state economy that operates within the confines of renewable natural resource availability.
These are some seriously fringe ideas and, even though they are grounded in science, I don’t expect these mantles to be taken up by my senators or representatives, let alone for any such directives to be developed in my lifetime. That’s okay though – we live in a pluralistic society in which majority opinions are generally enacted. I’m used to not getting my way.
For some people, however, the “not getting their way” extends beyond science based policy ideas to basic, every day life in America. That’s harder to swallow for a lot of folks. At its extreme, imagine those millions of Americans who seceded from the Union and bled on the battlefields to, at least in part, preserve the institution of slavery in this country. When Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox, the American way of life was forever changed. Those people wanted to “take their country back” but they couldn’t. It had irreparably changed. Imagine the resentment of seeing freed former slaves by those who lost loved ones and limbs to keep slavery legal. For decades following the Civil War, veterans of the Confederacy and their families longed for things to go back to the way they were.
In 1920, women finally earned the right to vote. The 19th Amendment was the culmination of a 100-year political battle for women’s suffrage. Did the opposition go down quietly? People vigorously and passionately argued against women’s suffrage right up to the end. Do you think they wanted to “take their country back” after the 19th Amendment passed? You bet they did. But there would be no going back. Those in opposition spent their remaining years feeling rejected by the country they loved. They thought the country had taken a wrong turn. They figured that this once great nation was on a downward slide toward anarchy and oblivion.
What happens when you don’t feel represented in government for your pet policy ideas like energy or tax policy or the Syrian refugee crisis? Feeling like you lack that voice is frustrating for sure, but we all experience that. But compound that with a more in-your-face, society passing you by lack of a voice? Wow, that must be maddening.
If the voice you want to have heard, however, is one that prefers a world in which women can’t vote and whites can own slaves, then screw you. I don’t care if your voice isn’t being heard because what you have to say is idiotic. That voice doesn’t deserve to be heard in 2016 and I bet nearly 100% of Americans would agree with me about that. (Nearly.)
Slavery and suffrage are low-hanging fruit, however. What other progress has been made that remains resented by millions of Americans? Think about the generations before you consider this question. Much has been made recently about the rise of the Millennials. They’re now a bigger demographic group than the Baby Boomers. But those Baby Boomers still number almost 75 million people. Before them it’s the Silent Generation at almost 28 million, and there are still some of those Greatest Generation folks around, too. In other words, there are well over 100 million people in this country born before 1964, when the Civil Rights Act (at least on paper) ended segregation and created equal employment opportunities. So that’s a substantial chunk of 100 million voters who, in 1964, got a big ol’ pie in the face on an issue they cared deeply about, and they’ve resented ever since.
We’ve made great strides since 1964 on civil rights, women in the workforce, and more recently, for gay folks to not only come out of the closet but to actually get married. Every one of these advances will in 100 years be considered as basic and obvious as women’s suffrage does to us today. As Martin Luther King exclaimed in 1967, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” But for the tens of millions who are on the backside of history , every time they see an interracial couple or a woman driven more by her own career than by a commitment to be a husband’s domestic servant or two men holding hands in public, they feel a punch in the gut to the America they thought they knew.
This is the kind of disenfranchisement that runs just below the surface of our presidential campaign in 2016 and occasionally bubbles to the surface in a racist comment or misogynistic attitude. Like slavery and suffrage, however, you don’t deserve to have a voice in representing attitudes that deny freedoms to your fellow Americans. We can talk trade deals and immigration reform and energy policy and our approach to ISIS and the National debt, but we are not going back on policy advances that protect and promote the equal rights under the law of all Americans. Get over it. Get over yourself, and let’s move forward.