I trust that you are still reading this article, and didn’t throw it away after reading the title. Let me be clear that I believe in democracy. It is the best form of government that has yet been devised. I remain dedicated to making American democracy better, and believe that our best days may still be ahead of us. However, I think that American democracy is facing a crisis. This is an important issue, and deserves serious consideration. I hope that this article stimulates you to think and write about your own views on our current political situation.
What does it mean to be a democracy? Some people say that in a democracy we get to choose our leaders. Some think we should get to choose what policies we want. Some people say that in a democracy we get to do what we want. For them it means no one else can tell them what to do. None of those viewpoints are accurate. They represent dangerous misunderstandings. It is true that citizens have the right to vote for their leaders, but there is no guarantee that the candidate that we vote for will actually be elected. Frequently, another candidate with contrary views and policies will prevail. In that case our votes seem to have been wasted. The same thing applies to various policies. For example, at the federal and state level there are numerous policies with which I disagree. We are also limited by our “Constitution” at both the federal and State levels. Even when a majority agrees upon a particular issue, the Courts can (and do) reject policies and actions that are deemed to violate the fundamental rights of others. Finally there is the fact that many of us are required to pay taxes (that are always too high) that are used to pay for programs that we disagree with, for people who are perceived to be taking advantage of the system.
Democracy has always been a difficult form of government. Everyone has an opinion or viewpoint, and we frequently disagree with one another. We need to keep in mind that in 1789 not everyone in America was in favor of adopting our Constitution. No president (since Washington) has ever been elected unanimously. Very rarely have major laws been supported by every member of Congress or Legislature. In 1861 our differences became so great that we fought a “Civil War” to resolve them. In most other cases we have been able to work through our differences without resorting to violence and bloodshed.
Democracy appears to be viable when the vast majority of the population shares basic values and culture. There may still be differences in viewpoint and methods, but they do not deal with fundamental perspectives. For most of our history America has had a fairly homogeneous population. Most Americans trace their ancestry to Europe, and their beliefs to Judeo-Christian roots. However, that is changing, and that is the “PROBLEM” that I referred to above. We are now becoming multi-cultural. We come from different races, adhere to different religions (or none at all), speak different languages, and have different cultural values.
This raises some serious questions. Those questions include the following:
- What happens when a majority of us cannot agree on basic issues and policies?
- How much “multi-culturalism” can (or should) our society and nation actually handle?
- How do we balance the rights of the majority to determine how our society should function, against the rights of minorities who disagree with the views and values of the majority?
- How should these questions be answered? Should they be decided by the Executive Branch (President or Governor), by the Legislature (Congress, Legislature, etc.), or by the Courts (Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, etc.)?
The current presidential campaign demonstrates how deep our differences and disagreements run. Most voters cannot understand how anyone could vote for the opposing candidate. What happens if a majority of the population concludes that democracy has failed them? How close are we to that point? What do you think?