In 22 democratic nations, voting is mandatory.

In Australia, failure to vote without a good reason is punishable by a first-offense penalty of $20, which rises to $50 for each uncast vote thereafter.

Of course, in most of these countries, voting is not limited to a weekday workday ending at 7 p.m., or standing in line for hours in the rain, or requiring a babysitter or leave from work (and loss of pay) or any of the other obstacles imposed on U.S. voters. (Let’s hear it for those evolved states that permit early voting and/or mail-in ballots.)

Some Americans are insistent about their right not to vote. (Not, we are assured, because they are lazy, don’t know where to vote, which way to vote or just don’t care.) Some say they make a statement by boycotting. Others say they know their vote won’t make a difference. (Tell that to the people of Virginia where a recent single vote gave the legislature to Republicans.)

The announcement by former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor that she is withdrawing from public life because of the onset of dementia is a poignant reminder that many Americans have devoted or given their lives for the privilege of voting. After she left the court to care for her husband with Alzheimer’s disease, O’Connor promoted the teaching of civics and pleading for civility in public life.

We are told that women will vote in a massive display of outrage over the prevalence of hate, violence, misogyny, lies, racism, religious intolerance and forced separation of children from parents. We will see.

We are told that young adults, outraged by the shooting deaths of their friends, will flock to polling booths Nov. 6. We will see.

There’s no doubt this is a vitally important midterm election. The Senate is controlled by Republicans. Their party is controlled by Donald Trump, who is increasingly amassing power and has well over $100 million to fight for re-election in 2020. The only hope for an alternative is a slight Democratic lead in polls for control of the House. Very slight.

We should ask ourselves what democracy means today. The answer is not necessarily what we think. Democracy now means the politics of personal destruction, an autocrat in the White House elected by the minority, government of lies and intimidation and power by and for the wealthy.

In recent days the president of the United States has told absolute lies to bend the electorate to his will; thousands have turned out to cheer him on.

He said middle-class Americans will get a new 10 percent tax cut in the next two weeks. Not true. Congress isn’t in session and no such cut is pending, despite feckless Republicans quickly selling their souls by backing the president’s nonsensical rhetoric. (They thought last year’s $1.5 trillion tax cut for the rich and big business would be appreciated by grateful Americans. Not happening.)

Trump scared his base with the dark lie that gangs and terrorists were advancing on America disguised as families escaping violence in Latin America. He vowed to use American soldiers and their weapons to keep them out.

Eager to sell arms to Saudi Arabia to use in its war against Yemen, Trump sided with Saudi Arabia’s phony stories about the slaughter of an American journalist in Turkey, suggesting the 21 murderers from a dictatorship were “rogue operators.” Trump then lauded a politician convicted of assaulting a reporter.

Trump explained away the caging of small children taken from parents by insisting America’s safety depended on it.

Trump tells bureaucrats what to do by Twitter, publicly ridiculing them if they don’t act quickly enough or forcefully enough (setting up a Space Force, trying futilely to find evidence of voter fraud, starting trade wars).

The cult of Trump yearns to believe him; his repetitious lies convince them what he says is true. They insult reporters doing their jobs. They deny the right to vote to people of color.

Voting is not required in America. Voting can be difficult. But those who don’t vote must take responsibility when democracy declines and falls because history proves that will happen.

Ann McFeatters is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service. Readers may send her email at [email protected]

©2018 Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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