US news

Shadow Politics, Citizen Media and Frayed Nerves

An increasingly radical Republican Party is highjacking state governments to push, not the will of its constituents, but the ideology of a majority. They’ve used gerrymandering to ensure that their own citizens are not heard. Americans must not be afraid to speak out and contradict those seeking to override debate.

illustration of man without ideas, creativity problem and solution, surreal concept © fran_kie /

March 06, 2024 02:50 EDT

Incentive structures are as old as the day is… well, you get the gist. Young children learn early on that a carrot is followed by a stick in the youthful pursuit of candy, favor and whatever they deem unattainable at that very moment. 

It would be fair to assume that as the child develops, the carrot and stick morph into new motivational structures symbolized by things that spoil, entertain, inform, protect, inspire and delight.

Incentives are embedded in the West as fundamental levers to cajole, influence and persuade communities, families, institutions and the body politic. The current life form is on a ventilator in a proof-of-life scenario where the character isn’t one individual but a tapestry of diverse viewpoints, cultural practices and discourse. 

Incentivizing for self — not others 

To pinpoint where I live would be to locate a red state in the US, previously known for country music and entertainment that has quickly lost its way into a vast and murky retread of history laden with acts of bigotry, ignorance and sheer petulance for anything and anybody different from the then-majority. 

A recent CNN special, “What Happened to Tennessee? The Battle of Blue and Red,” took viewers down the hallways of history to explore the southern state’s path to achieve a supermajority ruled by an uber out-of-your-seat Republican party.

Those concerned that plodding politicians represent the practice of government engaged only when requested haven’t been to Nashville over the last decade. The current leadership of the Tennessee GOP actively constructs legislation not demanded by the communities they serve but by a ragtag group of fear-mongering members seizing an opportunity to exact the powers of a supermajority. Committees have been built, at the hand of Speaker Cameron Sexton, with only one lonely Democrat among Republican peers, resulting in bills that never see the light of day or are whisked through without the whisper of dissent.  

Why would I, for my first Fair Observer column, dare dive into the farce that is Tennessee’s democracy? Because the stranglehold of any one political party suffocates the average voter from the one thing that is self-defining of the Great Experiment that is Democracy — hope. 

Gerrymandering districts confiscates the notion that citizens choose communities and neighborhoods of shared values and community practices. Redistricting says to the average voter that their vote does not count. In 2022, Odessa Kelly ran for Tennessee’s 5th Congressional District, capturing more than 70% of the vote in Nashville. Kelly did not win. 

Imagine walking the urban neighborhoods of Nashville trying to explain to voters that securing over two-thirds of the local vote resulted in a loss. And, while urban voters are trying to understand the new math of the GOP, the suburbs are being infiltrated by representatives more concerned with radical measures that smack of hypocrisy in the face of a nation that prides itself on the notion of freedom. Let’s not kid ourselves: squeezing your neighbor’s freedom because their values aren’t in line with yours is not representative of democracy. 

Democracy turtling 

The primary incentive structure of democracy to make a difference is facing gale force winds of oppression, stopping at nothing or no one to secure generational control. Gerrymandering, or as I like to call it, a sophisticated form of cheating by culturally unsophisticated adults, has reduced the call to civic duty to an either-or proposition: Either you stand down or risk your safety and your family’s in a state ranked dead last in the Democracy Index

It is no wonder why many statewide elections are non-starters from the outset, with many candidates running unopposed. The Democratic party once ruled the Volunteer State. Not anymore. It would be naïve to think the Dems of their day didn’t participate in retail politics and classic good ole’ boy negotiations. Still, the body politic didn’t resemble downtrodden and unrepresented community members waiting for the next injustice to tackle Lady Liberty. Whether it is a current bill to remove basic checks and balances from the legislative process or removing Pride flags from public schools while maintaining protections for the Confederate flag, the shine of Tennessee has patinated. It is on the verge of walking its citizens back through time, passing progress and decency for all into the past, girded by a simple notion that one is better and more worthy than the other.

Maybe I’m a prisoner of the moment, closely tracking the overarching trajectory of the GOP during this presidential campaign. Or perhaps I reside in, arguably, the least democratic state in the US. Either way, I recognize the quiet panic of disassociation from my fellow neighbors. Whether it’s the look of resignation at the grocery store or the lack of adult conversations at a local soccer field, there’s a reluctance to speak up or put out a yard sign that may counter the loudest voices.

I am unsure if Fair Observer found me or if I discovered Fair Observer. The readership thirsts for discourse and unfiltered representation of thought across disciplines, warzones and society. I echo the calls to represent balance, fairness, new opinions, varied opinions and discourse through discussion.

I may not have the background of a former diplomat or intelligence officer, as many of my new colleagues at Fair Observer do. I have had, however, the luxury of traveling worldwide, documenting stories of humanity within a refugee camp in Eastern Africa, surveying historical locations (the baptism site of Jesus in Jordan) and garnering an audience of monumental figures like Pope Francis and leading voices for the United Nations.

If democracy is to survive the winds of authoritarianism, we may need to expand our concept of the kitchen table for one family, into one home. We may want to consider the kitchen table as a metaphor for the world: Unless we invite our planetary citizens to join in active discourse, the global community will starve under the oppressed motivations of a history, sadly, repeated without lesson or favor for the next generation.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.


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