Back from the Brink
In our most recent Presidential election Americans chose democracy over tyranny.
There are two essential views of democracy. Elements of both views clashed in this election more than at any time in memory. Our clash in essential values has become louder over the years, resulting in our democracy coming more severely under threat.
One view of democracy is that for any of us to remain under the rule of law rather than rule by oligarchs or autocrats, laws must apply equally to all. This means that we sacrifice privilege for some if all are to be treated equally. The tradeoff is that we live in a society where our rights are respected the same as everyone else.
The other view of democracy is that we each try to use the system to prioritize our own rights – or those of our group – over others. From this perspective the rights of others are not as important as our own. When taken to its extreme, this view has moved democracies in the direction of autocracy, as is happening in many nations today.
If it’s not clear to you by now how close we came to bringing this country under autocracy, I will list a few of the ways that we have moved in that direction over the last four years:
1. A tax cut that benefited mainly the wealthy and greatly increased the income gap.
2. Trying to end government sponsored insurance for millions.
3. Attempting to eliminate safeguards for those with pre-existing conditions.
3. Weakening environmental protections.
4. Attacking peaceful protestors.
5. Using the office of president for personal gain.
6. An unwillingness to challenge dictatorial clampdowns around the world.
7. Firing people for expressing independent opinions.
8. Using the Department of Justice and asking foreign powers to prosecute enemies.
9. Trying to overturn the presidential election with frivolous lawsuits.
It would be naïve to claim that those who founded this nation were totally altruistic and only thought of the greater good. They were men of privilege who nevertheless clashed about how strong a federal government they wanted to establish. Many were slave holders. But they put partisanship aside to create the first written Constitution that provided a broad framework for equal treatment under the law that can continually be updated by amendments and the courts to stay relevant as times change.
For democracy to work, the vast majority of citizens must make partisan interests secondary to those of “We the People,” all of the people. This is the framework under which each of our individual interests are best protected.
There are some people – in this nation and all nations – who would rather win than preserve democracy. Thus it is impingent on everyone who values democracy to safeguard it by supporting candidates who show their support for it, as well as showing support for it in everyday conversations, not just by waiting until the next election to get involved.
Steve Zolno is the author of The Future of Democracy, The Death of Democracy, and Truth and Democracy. He has been leading study groups in democracy since 2006.