Nicholas Goldberg: In the election struggle between ‘kitchen-table issues’ and the fate of democracy, which side won?
Nicholas Goldberg is professor of philosophy at Princeton. He is the author of several books on political philosophy and the president of the PSE-Scholarly Society.
So far the election campaign has been dominated by questions about immigration and security, to the exclusion of the most fundamental questions about our democratic project. For the most part, in the media and in public life, they were dismissed as ‘kitchen-table issues’ or as passing distractions, the sort of ‘gotchas’ that are not serious enough to worry about. The election campaign thus has been a battle about ‘kitchen-table issues’ rather than about the survival of democracy or, indeed, about anything that is connected with the very idea of democracy.
This is strange, because the election campaign has been a campaign about the survival of the democratic idea of the United States of America. The ‘kitchen-table issues’ of the campaign are really about the future of the American political experiment, the fate of the democracy itself and the meaning of citizenship. The election campaigns have been about what can be done to preserve the institutions of the republic that are now under attack – and thus the American political experiment – and about how the American government is run, including the role of the electoral system. The election campaigns have been about the fate of voting itself and about the future of democracy. The fate of democracy has never been what the election campaigns are about.
The battle over immigration and security seems, at best, to be a distraction. Yet the immigration debate has been about democracy and the future of what it means to be an American patriot. The campaign over national security and immigration has been about democratic life itself. The election campaigns have been about the future of democracy, not a ‘kitchen-table issue’. It has been the future of democracy that the two parties have been trying to define.
The Democratic and Republican parties have defined themselves in terms of their opposition to a particular conception of American democracy – and the vision of American democracy that is in their manifestos and that they now claim