Have My Civic Ideals Faded?

Now I’m reading Boundless by Jack Campbell. It’s a military science-fiction novel. The story begins in a multi-planet democracy which verges on collapse. Some characters—reasonably—believe their democracy is doomed.

Why? A faction diverted military resources to building a secret fleet of AI-controlled spaceships which only they control to ensure nobody else—including a majority of elected representatives—can take power away from them. Most of these AI-controlled spaceships were destroyed in the previous book, but a few still exist, and the people who built them still haven’t been held accountable (yet, I haven’t finished the book).

Many characters fear that the admiral who defeated the rogue AI spaceship fleet is so popular he can—and will—install himself as a dictator. Heck, some characters want that to happen.

On top of all that, they’ve contacted several alien species. The alien species are interested in humans, yet their goals are unclear. This is rocket fuel for conspiracy theories—which already motivated two assassination attempts.

This democracy is in trouble. And yet… most of the senators give a damn what their voters think. They care enough that they will piss off other senators to meet their voters’ demands.

That this impresses me is a sign of how much trouble our democracy is in. Even if my assessment is wrong, and Nancy Pelosi does in fact care what we think (yeah, she’s my representative in Congress) she’s communicates that so badly it’s a problem in itself. Ditto Senator Dianne Feinstein. (Since Senator Padilla is so new as a senator, he still gets my benefit of the doubt.)

Why should Pelosi care what voters in her district think? No, really. The Democrat Party dominates local politics. No other party—not even the Republicans—has the local infrastructure to challenge the Democrats. Pelosi has so much control within the Democratic Party that she can block any challenger who has a chance of winning. Many vote for her reflexively because they’ve voted for her for decades and stopped thinking about it. So why should she care what we think?

When Dianne Feinstein was mayor, she responded to local voters. That’s because her political base was weak enough that upsetting too many voters would’ve cost her an election. That hasn’t been true for over a decade. Thus, she pursues policies unpopular with her own voters without risking her power.

Local politicians, for all their faults, respond to voters. Those who are out-of-touch lose elections. They must live among us.

That these senators in Boundless are so in touch with their voters, even though they live on different planets and it takes weeks to send messages, indicates that this fictional Alliance has a more robust democratic system than the 21st century United States.

Many characters, including the protagonist, continue to believe in the civic ideals of the Alliance. They say that if they stop acting as if they believe in the Alliance, then the Alliance might as well be dead.

That shocks me because talk of making the United States a more perfect union is so rare these days. Many told-you-so types dismiss our democratic traditions because the founders murdered many indigenous people and enslaved many Africans. That history is true. When these people articulate their alternative vision, I listen, but that’s rare. More often these people who say ‘the United States is a colonialist imperialist power’ and roll their eyes just say it to excuse lifting a finger to make things better today.

Even more people flat out ignore our civic ideals, as if they don’t matter. That’s worse.

The bumbling politicians in Boundless also try to find the truth. Even the politicians who want to commit mass murder to install their own dictatorship seek truth so they can carry out their evil plans more effectively. That’s so unlike the way the United States national government has handled crises of recent years—push the narrative, which is politically convenient, whether or not it matches the facts. When a policy fails, declare it a success and shut up the people who say otherwise. Results on the ground don’t matter as long as you spin it to flatter yourself.

In 2018, I read an editorial in Analog magazine printed around October 2001. It talked about how we must not give up our civil liberties because that’s what the terrorists who attacked the World Trade Center want. So quaint. Then I was shocked that I considered such a commonsense opinion to be ‘quant.’

For all that Boundless describes a disintegrating democracy, it also feels quaint. Maybe that’s a wake-up call. Maybe I should act more ‘quaint’ and strive toward a more perfect union.

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