Power, by Dr. E. Faye Williams
5/18/2023, 6 p.m.
“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” — Lord John Acton
I almost find it uncanny that a long-deceased individual can provide such an accurate analysis of current times. Or maybe it’s the predictable nature of humans?
However we reason it, the abuse of power is a recurring theme in human history that only portends tragedy for the less powerful.
By their nature, democracies are governments which are supposed to function in accordance with and express the will of the (majority of the) people. For that very reason, democracies are antithetical to those who value power over all else. As with the contemporary Republican Party and American Democracy, when the majority will of the people conflicts with the desires of those in power, chaos reigns.
Any secondary school civics textbook will explain that, in a democracy, the role of a political party is to explain proposed policy(ies) and convince a majority of the populace to agree. This agreement is usually formed when the populace realizes a personal stake in the presented policy(ies), and, through the election process, expresses its will and accepts the proposed political direction.
In our contemporary American Democracy, lies and misrepresentation, wealthy influencers, voter suppression, gerrymandered voting districts, archaic laws and/or the passage of laws favoring partisan interests are among the bases upon which the distribution of political power hinges. Looking objectively, we see this demonstrated in issues which are in the forefront of our daily news reports.
The carnage of American gun violence is at a record pace. According to the NAACP, Americans are 25 times more likely to be killed in a gun homicide than people in other high-income countries. Black Americans are 10 times more likely than white Americans to die by gun homicide. And, in 2022 and 2023, gun violence has surpassed car accidents as the number one cause of death among American youths. Yet, while a majority of Americans clamor for tangible gun reform in the face of these appalling numbers, Republican lawmakers only offer us “thoughts and prayers.”
In a June 2021 Forbes Magazine poll, 57% of respondents believe abortion should be legal overall in all or most cases—with 23% saying it should be legal in all cases and 33% saying only in most cases—including 76% of Democrats and 36% of Republicans. That percentage was even higher when asked whether abortion should be legal during the first trimester specifically, with 61% saying it should be legal in all or most cases. Yet an unwavering national minor- ity with influence in the courts and upon the reins of power are waging a ceaseless war against a woman’s autonomy over her own body and medical decisions.
In the aftermath of the elections in 2020 and 2022, those factions were instrumental in denying a greater political foothold to the MAGA crowd, and paved the way for the unexpected retention of progressive power in the Senate. They have become targets of draconian legislation to restrict their future votes. Black people, LGBTQ people, the young, and collegiate voters now find themselves in the crosshairs of conservative Republicans who are actively working to create legislative impediments to their voting rights.
Maybe it was our faith in the strength of the past American Democracy. We may have underestimated the tyrannical and despotic dispositions of conservatives and how, once they got power, they would lie, cheat, and steal to retain it. Republicans clawed and scratched for 50 years to gain the control they now enjoy. We can reverse their ill-gotten control, but we must first commit to another struggle and remember the admonishment of Frederick Douglass when he told us: “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”
The writer is president of the Dick Gregory Society.