Chapter 19 on Inclusion and Democracy made me think of so many situations currently happening in my home state of Tennessee. Last week, a resolution to denounce neo-Nazis and other white nationalist hate groups as terrorists died because not one member of the House Subcommittee would give it a second motion so it could have the chance to be voted into legislation. (story here) When asked state Rep. Bob Ramsey, told WZTV ,“that they didn’t have enough information on neo-Nazis or white supremacy to be able to talk about it.” Later, in a statement to CNN, Ramsey said the committee agreed with Clemmons “on the intent and philosophy of the resolution.” The objection was to “the designation of ‘terrorist organization.‘” -CNN
Now this is a scenario, just one of many I can think of, that fully displays the nature of the type of democracy present today. If there was a hate group that historically exclusively terrorized white communities, hanging thousands of them. I would believe there would be legislation in place to classify this group as a terrorist organization. There are entire museums dedicated to the heinous acts of the Klu-Klux-Klan, and not just about the methods of intimidation and terrorism they used, but also the pervasiveness of its active members working in the criminal justice system up to the state and federal level. Let’s also not also forget the Holocaust and how neo-Nazi’s idolize Adolf Hitler.
But how did this become appropriate? How is it possible for elected representative officials to abstain in this manner? It begs the question, who do these men see themselves representing? How do they identify themselves?
Iris Young critiques Elshtain’s argument that says, “either politics is competition among private interests, in which case there is no public spirit; or politics is a commitment to equal respect for other citizens in a civil public discussion that puts aside private affiliation and interest to seek the common good.” Young says that she believes this is a false dichotomy and I agree.
The elected officials observed here represent a base that has, through structural advantage, normalized ignorance towards issues that have historically had adverse effects on minority groups in America. Because this dominant group has not experienced mass terrorism, and has immense power in: population dominance: structural societal power; and financial capital these attributes almost mute the voices of other groups. “Under circumstances of structural social and economic inequality, the relative power of some groups often allows them to dominate the definition of the common good in ways compatible with their experience, perspective, and priorities….The capitalist class is able to control deliberative modes and policy decisions for the sake of its interests and at the same time to represent those interests as common or universal interests.” – Young. I believe these Tennessee representatives fully exercise this notion. Tennessee is a very southern Republican Christian state, this is “their” turf and that’s the lense through which they seem to perceive their world. High cultural values of: land ownership, traditional blue collar jobs, gun ownership, disdain for government intervention, individualism, hyper-nationalism, service to the US military, and a white cultural dominance are normative beliefs created and reinforced within this structurally powerful community. Others in structurally weaker communities who don’t hold the dominant majority’s cultural values remain: unheard, seen as unconventional, and at sometimes threatening.
These Tennessee state representatives could learn a thing or two from Young. She speaks about moving everyone beyond their own parochial interests. “Trying to solve problems justly may sometimes mean that some people’s perceived interests are not served, especially when issues involve structural relations of privilege. Even when the most just solutions to political problems do not entail promoting some interests are not served, especially when issues involve structural relations of privilege. Fairness usually involves coordinating diverse goods and interests rather than achieving a common good.” I hope one day the tale of Tennessee becomes one of an inclusive democracy.