Zachary Antoyan is a political science junior and Mustang Daily liberal columnist.
I’ve always thought that part of the idea behind a democracy was that we work together to build a better society. The naive idealist in me views our country as a project we all have a stake in, and how we interact with others dictates how this project fares for the future. If science fiction films have taught me anything, it’s that we need to work together to fight the aliens (here’s to you, “Independence Day”). I always figured we’re on the same side.
Most people I know hate group projects, but I cannot help but see our country as one big group project. As I scale the idealist down a bit, I’m going to bring out the more earth-bound realist. This notion that we all work for, and with, each other is a very easy worldview to refute as being accurate. This is evident especially when we look at the combination of a governmental system that is supposed to use cooperation (democracy) with an economic system that encourages competition (capitalism).
This will not be a critique of either system on an individual basis. Rather, it is an examination of putting together two things that encourage opposite actions and provide opposite motivations for those actions. I do not think they are mutually exclusive, because the combination of the two has taken us pretty far. But it’s like when you pull so hard on a rubber band that it snaps. At first it could withstand the force of the tugging, but after too many forces pulling it in different directions, it is now only sad and disconnected. What a sad rubber band indeed.
Economic special interest groups (subtly different than unions) are perhaps one of the strongest forces pulling apart our metaphorical rubber band … of democracy … for America (bad analogy over, I promise). They are some of the most powerful lobbying groups in the nation and consist of multiple sectors of our economy. From labor to energy and medicine, each has a special niche in the economy it wants to protect.
Naturally, these organizations look out for their own, and I have no problem with the formation of these groups. They can, and do, give extremely useful information for creating policy and provide a unified voice for industries and individuals.
But when policy is manipulated and the voice of special interests overshadows all others, the (my) ideals of democracy are betrayed by the competitive nature of a small portion of the nation. Take, for example, the recent, controversial and not-going-anywhere immigration bill. The special interest groups should provide insight and guidance for policy, but instead use threats of campaign funding and votes to literally dictate whether the bill is passed or not. They sit behind closed doors, working out deals that are based solely in self interest, disregarding what may be efficient or just for the nation.
This influence is not limited to economic sectors, either. One needs only to look at how powerful the National Rifle Association is within Congress to see the control it has over legislation and the democratic process. They have made it politically impossible to pass any sort of gun regulations. Because getting my background checked before I purchase a gun at a gun show is clearly infringing upon my Second Amendment rights.
This combination of democratic government and capitalist economy breeds an individualism that extends past our ability to write policy, build society and work as a team. It pits us against each other in favor of greater profit. The concerns these groups have about worker visas or citizenship acceptance rates go only so far as to forward their own cause. In many ways, they are not the representatives of all, but instead, of the few, and that defeats the purpose of a democracy.
This is Zachary Antoyan, impatiently awaiting the arrival of more “Arrested Development.” As if I need another distraction…