Nourishing the ‘tree of democracy’

Having spent my career in agriculture, it is natural for me to use the metaphor of a plant, in this case a tree, when I think about the functioning of government.

The limbs represent the various areas in which our government acts: education, healthcare, taxes, the environment, anti-discrimination, etc.  The growth and development of each limb is controlled by the nutrients supplied by the root system.  In a democracy, the root system is very diverse, and is us – we the people.

But the troubling reality is that we do not live in a democracy.  If we dig down in the soil and inspect the roots of our tree, we do not find a large, diverse root system.  Instead, we find that our tree has only three roots: a very large money-in-politics root; a very large gerrymander root; and a small, withered we-the-people root.  So “we the people” have minimal effect on how the limbs of the tree grow and develop.

The large quantity of “nutrients” supplied by the money-in-politics root, controlled by the well-funded special interest groups and the mega-rich, totally overwhelms the meager quantity that the we-the-people root can provide.

The gerrymander root developed because of the highly partisan drawing of congressional and legislative districts – legislators of the ruling party drawing districts to maintain their power.  So the nutrients supplied by this root produce limb growth and development tailored only to the interest of the ruling party, not the interest of “we the people.”

So whatever issues are important to you – supporting or opposing HB2, increasing or limiting education funding, expanding or not expanding Medicaid, tax increases or reductions, strengthening or reducing environmental regulations – the will of “we the people” on these issues will not be realized until the money-in-politics root and the gerrymandering root are cut.  Only then can the we-the-people root flourish and supply the nutrients needed to make the limbs grow the way the citizens of North Carolina desire.

The money-in-politics and the gerrymander roots are very strong and have a long negative history.  They will be difficult to cut.  But if we want a true, functioning democracy, we must roll up our sleeves and get to work.  If you’d like to start on the gerrymander root, grab your ax, go to, and start chopping!

Larry D. King is a retired professor of Soil Science at NC State University and a board member with Common Cause North Carolina.