If you fear tyranny creeping into America, it already has, and Luzerne County exposed the rule of the few in stark terms Tuesday.
It is not despots and demagogues who shackle us. It isn’t autocrats or monarchs who repress our will and impose theirs. No dictator has seized power forcibly. The takeover has been far more subtle, more circumspect. It crept up, it did not barge in.
As legendary comic artist Walt Kelly so presciently put it in a 1971 Pogo strip: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
We are beset by our own apathy. We are made pawns by our own passivity. We self-inflict with the keen blade of blunt indifference.
The numbers go beyond bleak: 24 percent of eligible voters went to the polls in Luzerne County on Tuesday.
Three-quarters of those who could have a say stayed silent.
And this was an improvement. Turnout in the May primary was a scant 19.8 percent.
Historically, even when people seemed to care, one-third didn’t. The turnout in last November’s high-profile presidential race: 67 percent.
Not voting is not new. In the preceding primary, turnout was 41 percent. In the 2015 general election, it was 28 percent. In the 2015 primary, it was 21.4 percent.
Go back as far as November 2007: It was just over 38 percent.
On Tuesday, a bit more than a fifth of registered voters set the course for everyone. And that’s not the whole picture.
Only 75 percent of those 18 or older in this county are registered to vote. The U.S. Census estimates the county’s population of adults at 253,106; a scant 40,583 voted.
That means about 16 percent of those old enough to vote made the decisions for everyone.
We profess to be the greatest democracy on the planet, a relentless sentry for self-determination. Yet we chose not to vote. Worse, we choose not to vote, then rail against those voted in.
The county property tax rate? The vast majority opted out of picking county council members who will set it. Wilkes-Barre Area School District’s $100 million consolidation plan? Voters had a chance to elect anti-consolidation independents or pro-consolidation incumbents, yet most chose neither. The list of abdication is long.
Kelly’s famous lament appeared in Pogo on the second Earth Day. Pogo Possum and Porky Pine walk through the Okefenokee Swamp and Porky muses that “the beauty of the forest primeval gets me in the heart.” Pogo counters “It gets me in the feet.”
The two sit on a tree root and look out at dumped garbage and discarded junk carpeting their beloved outdoors. “It is hard walkin’ on this stuff,” Porky says. Pogo then retools Oliver Hazard Perry’s renowned “We have met the enemy and he is ours!” message of victory over the British Fleet in 1813.
John Adams wrote “There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.” Not voting is not simple apathy or lethargy. It cannot be excused as a protest of a failed system.
When so many cede control to so few by failing to vote, democracy begins the proverbial death of a thousand pinpricks.