Proudly Hoi Polloi

cartoon | BrockelPressSometime in 2029, Virginia will again face the task of drawing political boundaries. The current Virginia Redistricting Commission (VRC) lies mortally wounded on the legislative books and, if memory serves decision-makers, it will remain in the legal sanitarium for bad ideas.

Since classifying the general populace of a country as hoi polloi (the masses, the common people), political leaders have persistently and consistently evidenced a lack of trust in the rabble to which most of us belong. Popular democracy, they reasoned, is not possible, and the masses are simply too unreliable to manage or govern a polity.

Communist theorists developed the “dictatorship of the proletariat” to express that principle. In Britain, the House of Lords and that of Commons, along with a continued investment in a royal agency, functioned to restrain the populace. In the United States, despite the influence of the Renaissance, the authors of the Constitution created structural barriers to popular democracy with the Electoral College and the Senate.

Distrust of the potential or perceived dominance of the hoi polloi runs deep in this country and, lately, finds increased expression in the restriction of voting rights and gerrymandering tactics. This thread, of course, leads back to the failure of the VRC.

Some might justify such distrust by citing evidence of unrest (characterized as rebellions by historians) such as Bacon’s Rebellion, the Whiskey Rebellion, the Haitian Revolution, and other events, as rationale for caution by political leaders to avoid entrusting elections directly to the electorate. The task of the VRC was very simple and required mostly arithmetic to draw political boundaries of equal and equitable populations of residents. That was not to be the case.

Political party squabbling torpedoed the VRC. It hired political party map consultants; required co-chairs, one from each party; had legislative members who could blackball unwanted proposals. Drawing the boundaries has now defaulted to the Virginia Supreme Court, which some pundits have criticized because its membership largely reflects Republican dominance of the appointment process over many years. To its credit (we wish to believe), the Court recently rejected map drawers recommended by political parties as not suited to the task.

Polling data could not be identified probing whether membership in the masses was a matter of pride among their population. On the other hand, the existence of hoi polloi over centuries and its survival despite the machinations of political leadership is testimony to resilience, not necessarily patience. If the present state of civil discourse is regarded, one conclusion is that the masses are not happy with political leadership at any level of government. The extremes on the political spectra and reform proposals tell that story.

Polling data could not be identified probing whether membership in the masses was a matter of pride among their population. On the other hand, the existence of hoi polloi over centuries and its survival despite the machinations of political leadership is testimony to resilience, not necessarily patience. If the present state of civil discourse is regarded, one conclusion is that the masses are not happy with political leadership at any level of government. The extremes on the political spectra and reform proposals tell that story.

The nation’s political leadership took about 126 years before it became “woke” and passed the 17th Amendment, allowing for the electorate to vote for US senators. Now, that body has degraded into a morass of parliamentary rules whereby a handful of folks control the destiny of 325 million residents. Virginia is not a microcosm of distrust of the electorate but an example. Fear of popular, equitable voting districts – possible loss of political advantage – motivated partisan assaults on a simple democratic principle leading to a frustrated citizenry.

It is unlikely that the state’s political leadership that predominates between 2021 and 2029 will revisit the VRC’s failure any time soon. More likely, the boundary issues will be encapsulated in some other scenario with little influence or regard for the people most affected. Dr. Seuss said it’s not easy being green. It is far more difficult being a member of the hoi polloi.



Categories: GERRYMANDERING, Issues, legislature, Local

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2 replies

  1. One reason, not all that serious, is that I gave this a thumbs down is that I have always found the term “hoi polloi” annoying, if not pretentious. Although defined, I had to look it up just to assure myself of the definition. The other is that the process of redistricting is still continuing, I know this because I met one of the Vice Chairs at an event on Friday, and he was somewhat optimistic that a bi-partisan agreement could be reached. You talk about the political leadership not trusting the commoners with responsibility. I have the same concern, but not because of wanting only the landed gentry to have the vote…it’s because our general populace have now sunk to an unimaginable, and perhaps irreversible, low level of responsible thinking, knowledge, and bigotry, resulting in a near government overthrow on Jan. 6, and a likely one in 2022 when the states use their new laws to overturn legitimate elections. Democracy, at that point, will be irretrievable in the near future.

    • There are no literacy and few cognitive requirements to vote. That is an essential characteristic of popular democracy – all should participate. Political choice making is often a highly emotional event tending to mitigate “responsible” thinking. It is a general duty of each member of the polity to conduct political discourse with others. That role is a proud one. Disappointment with political outcomes and the discourse that might accompany those outcomes is a price to be expected. Ensuring that elected leaders fully appreciate the rabble, the hoi polloi is a more difficult task.

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