What happened in Wisconsin has moral implications for democracy

December 5, 2018



In the wee small hours of the morning, Wisconsin Republicans took unprecedented action to impede the governing ability of the incoming Executive Branch of state government under the new Evers Administration. The terrible irony is not lost on many observers, in that eight years ago Governor Scott Walker pleaded with then-Governor Jim Doyle to not take any action in a "lame duck" session before Walker took office.


Amidst all the protests, statements, and claims from both Democrats and Republicans, there resides a deeper, moral struggle that will have drastic moral implications for our democracy. In fact, it speaks to the very nature of why democracy exists, and what it means to everyone's lives. It is my assertion that Democrats and progressives need to make this moral vision a priority in everything they communicate from now on. Because while it is a moral vision of democracy most people accept, it is diminishing in public discourse thanks to decades of intentional conservative effort to cause its diminution. What is this "moral vision"?


Simply stated, democracy was founded on the idea of empathy - that we have a moral responsibility to care the lives of other as ourselves. Democracy exists as a metaphor for our values. How we express those values determines how our government functions (or doesn't function). Consider this - in order for democracy (and our government) to function, people must act towards each other with empathy. Our freedom comes with an enormous responsibility for the freedom of others. Elected officials have a moral responsibility to protect AND empower the people who elected them, by acting on our values of caring for others in a democracy. Democracy is a metaphorical system founded on "The Golden Rule" (which exists in some form in every religion on Earth) - that we should act towards others as we would have others act towards ourselves.


Sadly, what happened in Wisconsin over the recent 48 hours is a reflection of how absent the "Golden Rule" is in our our democracy and our society in general. The actions taken by State Senate and Assembly Republicans have contributed to the continuing slow death of the one of the great moral tenets of our democracy. The evidence is everywhere. Republicans in Wisconsin put the consolidation of political power and their own self-interest over what's best for the people of Wisconsin. When the people voted in support of Tony Evers for Governor over Scott Walker - with full knowledge that Evers represents a change away from the politics of "divide and conquer" and towards a more cooperative, caring, progressive administration - Republicans took unprecedented action to preserve their self-interest and maintain power. 


Our society and politics in general are replete with examples of people placing their self-interest over the common good. In fact, I would argue it is an epidemic. It is the reason for our rampant inequality (the wealthy believing in a moral righteousness of being deserving and "self-made", with no responsibility to people or The Public), the reason that we fail to meaningfully solve our global climate crisis (people not willing to give up existing comfort or pay necessary taxes), and it is the reason we place such a high priority on personal wealth and achievement - all over the common good or well being of others. The dominance in our society (and for the most part our politics) of people acting on and prioritizing self-interest has greatly diminished the necessary role of empathy in democracy and governance. Without people caring for others, and acting on that "caring", there is no democracy. Period. 


That's what happened in Wisconsin. Republicans didn't care about democracy, and they certainly didn't care for the people of Wisconsin and the values they expressed in voting for Tony Evers. They only cared about their own power and self-interest, and that's a betrayal of the public trust. It also contributes to the death of democracy. 


It doesn't matter what political party you belong to, or who you voted for. The message is the same, because it's about our values as a people:


"This election, the people of Wisconsin voted for a future where we work together, and care for each other across the state through our democracy. We can only move forward by setting aside the old divide and conquer politics, and reject putting self-interest over the common good. The people of Wisconsin voted for a future where we work towards unity and the common good, and prosperity for all. Republicans in the State Legislature betrayed our values, and our democracy."