We all recognize cheating when we see it: stacking the deck of cards to win; deflating a football to make it easier to control; sharing answers during an exam such as happened here in Montana at Mahlstrom Air Force Base in 2014.
Cheating affects everyone. Cheaters never know whether it was their skill or the cheating that earned them the win; with that insecurity, they fall prey to lower self-confidence and defensiveness. Cheating hurts the people who do not cheat by setting up unfair competition and allowing those less skilled to win. When cheating is discovered, it erodes our confidence in the institutions where it occurred.
Most people agree on basic principles of fair competition. Each competitor should have an equal and fair chance. Lying is not OK. Winning should be the result of the competitors’ skills and knowledge, not manipulated circumstances.
Most of us also agree on the guiding principles that underlie our democracy:
- work for the common good;
- one person, one vote;
- opportunity for equal representation;
- elected representatives who tell the truth, have integrity and represent their constituents’ interests;
- civil debate with give-and-take and compromise;
- and the expectation that the U.S. Supreme court will uphold these principles.
These principles are our ideals; erosion of these principles through political cheating and manipulation can be hard to recognize. The fact that our democracy doesn’t always meet our ideals only increases the importance of these principles as indicators of what is right and what is wrong in the process of our democracy.
A small group of people with ample financial backing are stacking the deck in our democracy. These people don’t believe in democratic ideals. They believe cheating in our democracy is OK as long as it favors their interests. They have worked behind the scenes over the past 40-50 years to change the rules by which our democracy operates, moving us away from our guiding principles. Their efforts:
- blocked re-authorization of the National Voter Rights Act;
- stacked the Supreme Court with justices whose Citizens United decision allowed unlimited spending during elections and reinterpreted political “influence” to direct exchange transactions only;
- allowed lobbyists to peddle influence to the highest bidder;
- warped the priorities of our elected officials, who now spend an average of 40 percent of their time fundraising for their next election, distracting them from debating policy issues and representing the voters;
- eliminated the Fairness Doctrine in media coverage that required media to cover both sides of issues;
- and mounted smear campaigns and falsehoods to win public opinion, under the guise of free speech.
Along the way, they have attacked Republicans and Democrats alike and made our electoral process toxic. Cheating has undermined our confidence in our political institutions and weakened their ability to respond to change.
For nearly 100 years, the League of Women Voters has been a defender of democracy, supporting voter registration and voter rights, providing nonpartisan information on candidates and encouraging participation in government. On Monday, Oct. 16, at 7 p.m. and again on Tuesday, Oct. 17, at noon, both in the Missoula Public Library, the League of Women Voters Missoula is offering a free presentation on the challenges to our democracy and how the league is meeting head-on the 21st century forces corrupting our political principles. I invite you to join us.