Commentary
By Jim Wallis 10-11-2018

Of course the system is rigged — systems are always rigged to protect the wealth, power, and self-interest of those who created them, those who benefit from them. That’s not hyperbole; that’s reality, that’s human nature, and that’s what the Bible calls sin. And that’s why systems need to be held accountable — to the common good rather than just the system makers and controllers. And that’s why Jesus calls us to protect, in particular, "the least of these" who are most vulnerable to the systems' exploitation. This is why defending systems that just maintain the powerful’s own self-interest while neglecting the interests of others, especially the most vulnerable, is not just bad politics — it’s bad theology.

For example, the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court over the weekend is the culmination of a wealthy white male conservative Court-packing scheme that has played out over several decades. The result is a durable conservative 5-4 majority that is currently set to last up to 20 years (Justice Clarence Thomas, a reliable ally of this system, is 70 years old), and perhaps much longer, depending on who holds power in the White House and Senate when the next retirements happen. While that majority was put in place in a way that followed the letter of the law and paid lip service to respecting institutions, it’s critical to understand that it represents the will of a minority of U.S. citizens: Four of the five Supreme Court Justices, who now constitute the new conservative majority, were appointed by presidents who lost the popular vote.

To compound this example of minority rule, as E.J. Dionne forcefully points out in his column this week, George W. Bush might never have been president if the five conservatives on the court in 2000 hadn’t abandoned their own judicial philosophies and Supreme Court protocols to pick the winner of the presidential election by stopping the Florida recount:

The pro-Bush justices made abundantly clear that they were grasping at any arguments available to achieve a certain outcome by declaring, “our consideration is limited to the present circumstances.” Translation: Once Bush is in, please forget what we said here.

Bush then appointed two staunch conservatives to the court: John G. Roberts Jr. (one of Bush’s legal foot-soldiers in Florida) as chief justice as well as Samuel A. Alito Jr.

As Dionne notes, after the historic blockade of Merrick Garland, president Barack Obama’s nominee to replace the late Antonin Scalia, and now Kavanaugh’s confirmation despite Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s credible testimony that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her, the conservative white minority has achieved a landmark goal:

A generations-long conservative majority on the court has been cemented in place by a political minority. Kavanaugh was named by a president who won 46 percent of the popular vote and confirmed by senators representing 44 percent of the population. When you lack a majority, controlling the branch of government not subject to the voters is vital to working your will.

The packing of the Supreme Court with white male conservatives was the heart of a political strategy to prevent the changing of American demographics from changing American democracy — or at least slow it down as long as possible. That strategy is also buttressed by the racial gerrymandering of congressional districts, surgically directed voter suppression of racial minority votes, the dramatic reduction of immigration by people of color, and racially focused mass incarceration policies that prevent former felons from voting. Imagine if the 1.6 million former felons in Florida could vote. And imagine how that might affect the campaign of Andrew Gillum, the mayor of Tallahassee and the first African-American candidate for governor. Drug use is almost identical for whites and blacks, but incarceration is overwhelmingly and disproportionately black and brown; further, nonviolent crimes — like stealing anything worth more than $300 — is a “felony” in Florida.

Racal gerrymandering, targeted voter suppression, dramatic reductions in immigration, and the mass incarceration of racial minorities who won’t be able to vote even after they have served their time are all part of a strategy to prevent or slow demography from changing democracy.

The survival of our democracy depends on the resilience of institutions like a free press, a strong civil society, a Congress that holds other branches of government and corporate systems accountable, and a judiciary whose trust depends on nonpartisan integrity that holds everyone accountable to the rule of law. The weakening of any of those sectors, or their lack of independence, puts democracy in jeopardy. When those institutions are being structured to protect the interests of the white, male, conservative self-interests of our current systems, we have a democracy problem. And when the packing of our institutions helps a minority of the population retain its power over a growing majority for as long as possible — it just serves to perpetuate a status quo of structural racism, wealth, and patriarchy. Again, not hyperbole but reality.

The political emergency of the Trump presidency with a Congress willing to enable any level of corruption and criminality by this president makes all this worse and more dangerous. If accountability isn’t applied to the executive branch, in particular, we may not have a democracy to defend for much longer.

The rigged nature of our systems will ultimately need to be fixed, reformed, and healed. And to do that we need to vote against strategies and policies that would look to stop America’s changing demographic from changing our democratic society to be more just and making our government more representative of the full diversity of our country.

Compliance to the rule of law, the importance of truth, the ethics of public service and leadership, and progress on social equity and equality are all fundamental to the health of democracy; and the threat of autocracy over the common good of all our citizens is now at stake. Therefore, we cannot squander any opportunity to genuinely check this president’s frightening increasing power — by holding Trump accountable to the law, to freedom of the press, to limited constitutional government, and to protecting the most vulnerable people in our nation from the president himself.

As we approach the 2018 midterms, we need to particularly protect the right to vote for citizens of all races, economic levels, and political persuasions. This is an imago dei moment: If we believe that all human beings are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26), then efforts to prevent some of God’s children from exercising their franchise must be opposed as a matter of fidelity to our faith.

Stricter ID requirements and other measures claimed to combat alleged “voter fraud,” a charge that is contrary to all the evidence, are actually efforts to suppress the vote of particular people. As Christians living in a representative democracy, we need to champion the right of all people to participate in the act of self-government by exercising their right to vote, regardless of who they vote for.

Because protecting vulnerable voters is integral to building the more just society our faith calls us to seek, Sojourners is working with other faith groups such as the National African American Clergy Network, as well as groups of legal professionals, such as the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the Brennan Center, to bring lawyers and clergy together for strategic action centered on protecting vulnerable minority, young, and older voters. This year, we are committed to a “Lawyers and Collars” initiative that will involve lawyers and clergy working together in important and innovative ways to protect those threatened voters.

There is symbolic power in clergy wearing their clerical collars showing up alongside lawyers on Election Day to offer protection to voters who may be targeted for suppression or intimidation, a work that will continue through this Nov. 6 at polling places across the country.

We all need to vote on Nov. 6 or before, no matter how much time and effort that takes; get your kids to vote if they are old enough; tell your co-workers and fellow congregants to vote; and even try to find and help people to vote who didn’t in the last election. Vote overwhelmingly for democracy and political accountability in this election year. Vote in the defense and protection of those who are poor and vulnerable — whom the God of the Bible tells us are the test or our politics. And after voting for democracy, commit to a deep and long-term plan to heal it by changing rigged systems and holding them all accountable to the common good of a more multicultural future.

Jim Wallis is president of Sojourners. His new Audible spoken-word series, Jim Wallis In Conversation, is available now, as is his book, America's Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America. Follow Jim on Twitter @JimWallis.

Don't Miss a Story!

Get Sojourners delivered straight to your inbox.

Have Something to Say?

Add or Read Comments on
"The System Is Rigged"
Launch Comments
By commenting here, I agree to abide by the Sojourners Comment Community Covenant guidelines and acknowledge that my comment may be published in the Letters to the Editor section of Sojourners magazine.

Must Reads

Subscribe