September 18, 2022

Democracy Is Not Self-Repairing

 

This isn't really a post about politics. It isn't really just a plea to learn who is running and why, and a plea to be sure to vote in November, regardless of the hurdles put in your path. No, It is a brief reminder that what we take for granted is not set in stone. The way we expect our public life to be handled, administered, controlled, encouraged, and protected is always fragile. It is no stronger that the people who live here and those we choose to faithfully represent us.

Our specific form of government does not have a long history and an even shorter track record of success. Without turning this into a history lesson, the ancient Greeks are usually considered the civilization that began using a form of governance that involved people instead of kings or monarchs, making decisions and developing rules for society. 

Fast forward to the 1700s and America's revolt against taxation without representation, a hot-button issue, but not the whole reason to pull away from England. Increasingly strident demands for money from the colonies to support Britain's war efforts, the dictatorial nature of civic control, and the very large body of water separating the two societies all played a part in the Revoluntary War.

The result was a type of democracy that involved an attempt to blend the normal attributes of true democracy with a representative form of control. This mix was chosen because the founders didn't trust the "uneducated masses" to make the proper choices for the country as a whole. What they did in their own local areas didn't bother those in Washington, but a Federal system of ultimate control was deemed essential. 

If you are interested there are plenty of books that detail not only this form of governance but also its inherent strengths and weaknesses. From day one, America was built on the premise that the "haves" needed to make the decisions and set the standards for the "have-nots."  That conflict continues to this day and is being played out quite loudly and publicly at the moment. 

So, finally to my key point: Democracy is not self-repairing. 

Our system of managing ourselves and others is quite young in the grand scheme of things. 246 years is not much compared to the 1000 years of the Roman Empire or 600 years of Ottoman control in large parts of Europe and Asia. One could argue that what we are going through at the moment is simply growing pains. Americas is still trying to figure out how to balance such a large land mass, with an increasingly diverse population, using a system designed for different times.  That seems to me to be a copout, a way to avoid the facts of our world today.

One source on the Internet lists these as requirements of a functioning democracy:

* Elected representatives.
* Civil liberties.
* Independent judiciary.
* Organized opposition party.
* Rule of law.
* Citizens in a democracy have not only rights but also the responsibility to participate in the political system.


My humble request is that you reread this list and make two determinations:

1) How many of these six essential markers are in place and functioning well today?

2) What can you do to help repair/replace/solidify those you identify as weak, under attack, or missing?


Like any form of societal control, democracy is in a state of constant flux and constant attack from those who want to be one of the "haves." Democracy is not self-repairing. It takes you, me, your neighbor...everyone to find the weaknesses, then patch, repair, and reset our path.


How's that for a small challenge today?


31 comments:

  1. Oh my comment on this rabbit hole would become far too long for a blog comment. Suffice to say I am in the belief that our civil liberties at HIGH risk in this country as there is a very loud contingent that wants control of choices that are of personal nature and would not have a negative affect on them yet control they want.

    People who scream they want change in Washington, continue to vote those very same people back. And then continue to scream. Pathetic.

    I continue to do my part. Informed voting. Support of individual rights and choices. I'm a bit relieved I have no children/grandchildren to attempt to explain this to. I'm very concerned for the future here.

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    1. The people who scream the loudest about personal freedom are often the ones leading things like book banning and anti-abortion. They are too caught up in their own god complex to notice the irony.

      The normalization of blatant illegal activities and the lack of outrage and demanding an end to this pattern of the slow drip of disintigration of society is allowing this disease to grow and spread.

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    2. The vagina hats were a unique protest…accompanied by window smashing, Molotov cocktails and harassment of people who did not agree that Hillary really won. How short memories are….

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  2. Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.…’

    Winston S Churchill, 11 November 1947

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    1. Yes, Churchill's quote is spot on. Humans are notoriously unruly and stubborn. That makes any form of control and order a risky bet.

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  3. Hi Bob! Good for you for calling us all out on asking us how important is the health of our government to us personally? It is far too easy to sit back with an "opinion" of what should be done or even what could be done without taking personal responsibility to either helping on hindering it. I like to think I am on the side that believes we must participate, and I do vote and even volunteer for certain things both locally and nationally, but then I know that there is far more that could be done...and maybe in this day and age NEED to be done. But until more of us are willing to do that I'm not sure anything will change and the people with the loudest and most extreme voice are the ones who will be heard. I just continue to hope that more and more women AND more and more young people realize the threat to their future is real and at least vote in the coming (and ones after it) election. ~Kathy

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    1. Our future as a democracy really hinges on three factors: the younger generations deciding it is worth working for, minorities and women standing together to protect their basic human rights and control of their own bodies, and the failure of the radical faction of the GOP to continue to buck public opinion and decency and win.

      I find it both instructive and disguisting that several candidates vowed to ban all abortion and support the lie about 2020, only to make a 180 degree turn after winning their primary. They flat-out lied to their voters or are lying to the rest of us. In either case, they make my skin crawl.

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  4. * Elected representatives.
    Gerrymandered districts and states. We need independent appointed bodies to determine election districts. No legislative determined districts. We also need to divide up the votes to correctly represent the voters. No more winner take all elections.
    * Civil liberties.
    Continue to support civil protest. Ban all guns from any protest. This tactic is obviously intended to intimidate and silence opposition. You show up at a protest with a gun and you lose it permanently with no compensation.
    * Independent judiciary.
    Lifetime appointment to any judicial seat is a bad idea. Just as bad as lifetime appointment to any congressional office.
    * Organized opposition party.
    We need this more than anything else. Guess who will go to any length to oppose it. That is correct, both parties.
    * Rule of law.
    In our country you can have all the justice you can afford. There is absolutely a difference in outcomes between the haves and the have nots. We need a serious evaluation of alternatives to our judicial system.
    * Citizens in a democracy have not only rights but also the responsibility to participate in the political system.
    Voter registration should accompany a drivers license or state ID card. No more attempts at limiting the numbers or types of voters. One party has been very honest in their desire to make this process as difficult as possible, while showing no evidence that there ever existed a significant problem. Make voting mandatory, with a fine for failure to participate.
    The second part you requested is infinitely more difficult. This country is under attach by a minority that wishes to permanently control the majority. There exist no lies they will not tell, no boundaries they will not cross. When you encounter some one with an opposing viewpoint do not be afraid to enter a civil discourse. Ignoring politics is a sure way to allow someone else to control the outcome. When you encounter someone with with purely ignorant or evil opinions do not be afraid to call them on the carpet. It may ruin your thanksgiving, but that is a small prices to pay for our freedom.

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    1. Fred, reading your comment is like taking a course in civics. You have presented sensible responses to the six listed steps. If only solving them was this simple!

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  5. Right now what worries me most is the rule of law and an independent judiciary. While there are many examples of judges upholding the law without fear or favor, I see far too many instances of judges carrying water for "their side" of the political spectrum. If we can't get justice in our court system, we are doomed. The extent to which TFG continues to elude the law is horrifying and it defies the concept that no one is above the law in this country. Very discouraging and I wish I had a solution other than voting and encouraging the same of all my fellow citizens.

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    1. If nothing else the last several years have made it abundantly clear that the American judicial system is a never ending cycle of appeals, delays, and games that can be played forever by those wealthy enough to foot the legal bills.

      So far all those convicted and paying a price for their part in January 6th are the foot soldiers and essily tricked, not the puppetmasters who remain free to cause more damage.

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  6. I am sorry to be cynical, but I believe we are largely a country of distracted hedonists, treading water in a sea of trivial BS, addicted to the products of the "Entertainment Industrial Complex." Tic Tok, Instagram, sports, reality TV, etc., seem far more important than reading history or even watching educational documentaries that make our lives richer and more complex. Jefferson and Franklin worried about our ability to sustain our democratic republic without an educated population. Based on my assessment of the current level of societal ignorance I think we are about to find out if such fears were justified. Your list of the features of democracy are spot on, but I doubt that 1 in 25 people could recite such a list, and many fewer would be able to offer evidence of the importance of each. We need more gratitude and less entitlement.

    I happend to catch the old Joni Mitchell song the other day with the line: "don't it always seem to go, that you don't know what you got till it's gone." It gave me a shudder. I hope we don't get the chance to find out with the weakening or loss of our form of government.

    Rick in Oregon

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    1. I would be hard-pressed to disagree with what you say. Through no fault of the teachers, our education system is failing us.

      Our fascination with mindless entertainment and instantly satisfied consumer desires in place of doing the hard work of being a citizen is putting us in harm's way.

      Wifh Trump now openly courting the QAnon crowd, including their Nazi-like salute, I really don't know what this country has become.

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    2. Rick, I think you are spot on. Bob, thank you for having the courage to raise the topic. Jefferson counted his founding of the University of Virginia as one of his three great accomplishments (all three are on his tombstone). He felt that without a strong public education system, the American experiment could not weather the pressures of a populist society. From my perspective, our public educational system, most especially at the university level, has faltered. For example, if you consider what was taught in AP US History classes in the 1980s and what is taught in those same classes today, there could be cause for concern. The concept of American exceptionalism has vanished, and the narrative fully obsesses on the faults and flaws of America. From such a perspective, one cannot genuinely nurture idealism nor strive to maintain a system based on the genius found in the Constitution (checks and balances). One could also consider the role composition courses play in universities across the nation because composition courses are ubiquitous -- almost all students take an "English" class in their first term. Here, again, you find a powerful bias against anything that suggests American ideals are to be admired. This anti-exceptionalism can also be found in the public sphere with the 1619 project and, most recently, the arguments that America should accept responsibility for some role in the Holocaust. Certainly, this topic is a hot button topic, and I'm sure many have a multitude of views. If we have a strong educational system, we can engage these varied viewpoints rationally and intelligently, benefitting all. Without that deep knowledge and discussion, we will likely be reduced to reactions without thought. Rome is a good example to consider. The Republic eventually gave way to a series of dictators, the worst of which was arguably Nero. While Rome fell into decay, the order of the day was panem et circum -- bread and circus. That may be what America is experiencing today -- bread and circus. Rome, of course, also fell because of internal corruption. The result was a long period of lost knowledge. I would like to believe we will not go down that road, but . . .

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  7. This is a serious topic that's been on mind very much as well, Bob, and I agree with all that's been said above.

    I'm constantly amazed at the people who think a small minority should be able to make decisions for all of us and proceed to make changes that aren't supported by the majority. Fred, I agree with what you had to say, especially about gerrymandering and independent judges.

    I'm blown away by the election deniers that have somehow managed to make it harder for many people to vote while we know perfectly well that it doesn't affect their own ability to get to the polls. The right to vote is a hallmark of our nation that should never be treated so disrespectfully.

    A vocal few insist the 2020 election was a fraud. In their minds it must be, if they didn't win. HAH As far as I'm concerned, if one election is a fraud, they're all fraud! If you say a Democrat didn't win in your state (when they did), then the Republican winners of other races must not have won either. If their system is corrupt it's corrupt in ALL the races. What makes them think they can have it both ways? Because they're getting away with it. If they want to deny the election's authenticity, they need to show proof. Which, of course, they can't. Because it wasn't. Because our elections officials are hard working, ethical individuals doing their best to be fair and unbiased.

    I worry about the lack of respect for the rule of law and the ability of extremists to have one standard for themselves and another for everyone else. I'm sick that our former president seems to be able to delay or deny so much when the evidence is right in front of our faces.

    I'm sick that so many don't watch the January 6th Committee hearings, hear the evidence, and become outraged at what's happened. It's a travesty. One that will be repeated, I'm afraid, unless people wake up.


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    1. I am a member of my city's Library Board. We are volunteers advising the city on best pratices and policies.

      I am aware of Library Boards being verbally attacked and harrassed over book banning. So far, we have not been a target, but I am aware we could be at any time.

      To talk about book banning and threats against the library in America in the 21st century is all I need to know to convince me our path is rocky and may end with a sudden drop off a cliff.

      I am beginning to think of all the lies, deniers, and conspiracy theorists as an out of control fire. It will burn and spread and destroy until it runs out of hate and fear and racism to fuel it.

      What will left afterward is anyone's guess

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    2. What is happening to libraries is frightening. Some of our local schools rely on the county library branch for books, and there are parents (some running for school board now) trying to ban books they don't approve of -- from a public library!

      Also, I'm not all that far from the library (Jamestown MI) that voted down their library millage because they would prefer to close the library rather than have books (behind the counter!) that offend them. You may have seen the romance novelist Nora Roberts donate $50K to this library to keep it open. They're voting again in November on the same millage. It will be interesting to see how that vote goes.

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  8. PBS just put out a special by Ken Burns entitled 'The US and The Holocaust' I implore everyone to see it. Especially the first of 3 episodes. If you want to truly understand what is going on in America NOW, and what our future will be, this is a 'must see' TV experience. Seeing our current President Biden scream and yell that MAGA are fascists and should be eliminated is nothing short of Hitler screaming and yelling to the masses that the Jews are responsible for all their troubles and should be wiped off the face of the earth. In America right now, our elections are fixed, we do not have many of our previous civil liberties and America is in so much decline that our Democracy will be long gone shortly, if it isn't gone already. Watch the series and make your own conclusions. You can see it for free, streaming online here: https://www.pbs.org/kenburns/us-and-the-holocaust/?gclid=CjwKCAjwpqCZBhAbEiwAa7pXecxtuw-Qdlz7BeC4de5FPuV0B_v8o8qXKsFRscJyJTUv8QWWP71IHxoC7S8QAvD_BwE

    YKWTI

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    1. I have left this comment in place for two reasons: badly mistaken as I believe this person is, he/she is entitled to express an opinion that doesn't degenerate into hate speech or profanity.

      Secondly, I encourage the watching of the Ken Burns documentary, but for an entirely different reason: it documents our historical failure to help protect the Jews from Hilter even when given several chances. Like parts of our racial history, it may not be pleasant, but essential to understanding our history.

      Watch it before a group decides it should be banned.

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    2. All I have to say to this person is 不不不不不 you misspelled Trump!

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    3. Well that interpretation of the Ken Burn's documentary is certainly interesting. 不

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  9. I feel that none of our elected officials actually tries to actually do anything to benefit the United States of America. This seems to get worse all the time and infiltrates all of the offices that claim to be there to improve the lives of Americans. Hearings on capitol hill are just a chance for politicians to use those in the hot seat as a chance to voice their own beliefs, never allowing a question to be answered by the person sitting in the hot seat. Hillary Clinton called Donald Trump an illegitimate president and President Trump claimed the next election was stolen. I'm sure this has been going on for my entire life. Corruption is far too deep for it not to be. They are ALL there to fill their pockets using insider trading and being paid off by various entities to vote for whatever bill will bring additional money into their coffers. How else can you explain a person earning $200,000 per year becoming a multi-millionaire in less than four years? One side is no better than the other.

    When I took journalism, who, what, where, when and why was what was reported, not opinions. Reporters dug for answers and reported facts without bias. This is no longer the case.

    Far too many homeless, drug addicts, thieves, hungry, and border towns with triple and quadruple their populations due to illegal entry. There is no relief in sight. I live in Arizona. Winter is on the way, more are guaranteed to show up. Meanwhile, our politicians just pose.

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    1. While I wouldn't paint all politicians with the same brush, too many do take advantage of their position, the system, and a lack of rules over things like insider trading. As the former president shows, with enough money, a lifetime of gaming the system, and zero concern of others, it is quite possible to avoid consequences.

      Reasonable changes, like term limits for Congress, inability to trade stock while in office, term limits for judges, and an adherence to the rule of law regardless of who someone is, would go a long way toward healing the system.

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    2. I am a little leery of term limits given our history of them in the Michigan legislature. We seem to have more opportunities for people who know nothing to be elected. There is something to be said for having some idea of how to legislate and a few years experience (at least back in the day) proved helpful in many cases. That said, there should probably be a mandatory retirement age -- I'm looking at you, Chuck Grassley and Diane Feinstein.

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  10. Term limits is key at all levels. And taking the money out of the elections from foreign governments and special interests. It seems that everyone has figured out how to affect our elections. Even both political parties supporting the worst candidate from the other party to win a seat shows the best interest of the country comes last. I agree with anonymous comments above.

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    1. Ever since the Supreme Court decided that corporations are "people" as it relates to political contributions, things have become markedly worse. Dark money puts our political system on sale.

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  11. I want to encourage those who are interested in the larger issues here to read Fiona Hill's memoir, There Is Nothing for You Here; it is by far the best analysis I have seen of the root causes of the international rise of authoritarianism and threats to democracy. Hill links these trends to growing inequality and the rage felt by those who are left behind by economic change. If she is right, we cannot save our democracy without also dealing with our growing wealth and income chasm. I have been fantasizing about a corporate income tax that would be on a sliding scale with the tax rate determined by the ratio of top exec compensation to average worker compensation, with higher tax rates tied to greater inequality. Small Mom and Pop businesses, where the owners typically work alongside the workers and don't take salaries that are in a different universe than the pay of the workers would get the lowest corporate tax rate, while billionaire owners and corporate execs who shamelessly exploit their workers would pay the highest tax rate.

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    1. I second your recommendation. In addition to a fascinating life story, Fiona offers compelling insight into the sources of our troubles. This is a must read.

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  12. Bob, the US has never been a Democracy. In a democracy your vote and mine would have the same weight as Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi. The US was setup as a Constitutional Republic with a weak federal government on purpose. What we have evolved into is an Oligarchy where the money of the ultra rich controls our lives. Gates, Soros, Buffett and other wealthy aristocrats on both sides of the political aisle control our lives. Republican and Democratic Politicians are all enamored by the ultra-rich and desire to be rich themselves. The current time is much less turbulent than the 1960's we did not call occupied government buildings' insurrections then but sit-ins. My ancestor was an insurrectionist he took his assault rifle from his farm in Wilmington Mass to Lexington, Concord and Bunker Hill in opposition to the elected government of his time.

    Why does everyone hang on that failed decision by the Supreme Court to cobble together a right to abortion that did not exist. The U.S. is in the same boat as China and North Korea with no law on the books legalizing abortion. Even Catholic Ireland could legislate and pass a law legalizing abortion. Roe vs. Wade was CYA for politicians who did not want to take a stand on legalizing abortion. Democrats controlled the House from 1954 to 1994. Which included unified government under Carter & Clinton and again a unified government under Obama.

    Local control of government is superior as it is easier to see the graft and stealing of the politicians that is why our founding fathers wanted states to have more power. We only need to look at the insider trading by our politicians in both parties which Congress still hasn't taken action on.

    The way to take money out of the equation is to ban political ads and have must carry debates and interviews of the candidates.

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    1. Yes. The founders didn't trust the masses to make the correct decisions, hence the blending of a democracy and Federalist principles.

      Over the years the flaws in that approach have become evident. Congress does very little except posture. The Judiciary has become politicized and thus lost its moral center. The executive branch has seen the void in power and stepped up its involvement in shaping and making decisions.

      The problem with state control is evident in the patchwork of decisions on abortion and voting rights, as just two examples. Every time an election switches parties the"rules" change. Should I have to move from state to state every four or eight years to live in a place that adhere's to my views?

      Should I live in Texas where the electrical system is not connected to the national grid, guaranteeing regular failures after major storms just becase those in power want to show how independent they are?

      I am not arguing with the premise that local control is very important, for local issues. But, I don't want my mayor to decide to shut down all schools or decide to make voting in national elections very difficult.

      You have raised several inportant issues, Jack, that require discussion and thought. Thank you.

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  13. Thank you for floating this topic, Bob. The commentary is very interesting, much of it well considered. Ultimately, I think Americans are a good lot, and they will try to forge a better society for all. I don't know if we will get there. Democracies of any stripe don't have a particularly inspiring track record. In Rome, there was a belief that the Roman Republic could only be re-established from century to century by people who thought and acted like the founders of the Republic. What ended Rome is, sadly, noticeable in our society today. Still, conversations like these give me hope.

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