Ed.: 022518 – Words: 1720 – Audio: N/A
Let’s get our democracy formula stated right up front here.
American Democracy equals the U.S. Constitution
American Democracy does not equal American Politics
Therefore, the U.S Constitution does not equal American Politics.
American Politics equals the Status Quo
Therefore, the Status Quo does not equal the U.S. Constitution
So, what exactly is broke here?
A while back I watched the CNN town hall special from Sunrise, Florida where literally thousands filled the stadium to watch a group of Stoneman Douglas high school shooting survivors ask questions of three members of Congress, and later a representative from the NRA. The three politicians were Sen. Rubio of Florida, Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida, and U.S Representative Ted Deutch. Later in the program, NRA spokesperson, Dana Loesch was added to the panel.
Obviously it was an emotionally angry, but controlled setting given the immense outcry from the tragedy. I rather thought the political guests had a fair amount of courage given this could have been a screaming free-for-all with the crowd seething against do-nothing politicians. On the other hand, these politicians represented most of the crowd and the political district of the shooting itself and should be there. The crowd, and certainly the survivors and parents of the deceased students truly wanted to cast blame on life and fate itself if they could. The politicians took the heat… as did the NRA rep.
But one question came out that I thought was worth mentioning… largely because I thought the answer provided was marginal… and the question itself was from an emotional perspective, which was totally understandable. Essentially this was not a constructive town hall meeting but rather therapy for the shooting survivors.
Question to Sen. Bill Nelson by a student survivor posing a followup question: “Is democracy broken?”
Sen. Nelson’s answer included… “Is democracy broken? A little.”
In the space between the question being asked and Nelson’s answer I was thinking the senator would reply with some measure of optimism. To my surprise, his reasoning was reflective more of the general frustration… suggesting the divisiveness and influence of corporate interests souring the process. Many from the crowd cheered in agreement.
On the surface I have a big issue with an elected official serving in Congress making even the slightest inference that American democracy is “broken”. More than anyone, an elected official is in the position to promote the system, promote democracy, because that is exactly how and why he got elected to the public office to begin with. He should always be a cheerleader of the system in which he serves. That’s called loyalty and faith in the Constitution… and, again, to the nation in which he serves.
I am certainly willing to accept the feeling of the moment on the part of Sen. Nelson in being inside that stadium of emotion over such a tragedy and trying to balance a response with the rather “no matter what you say, Mr. Politician, it’s just an excuse” judgment of the crowd.. so I might give him a little slack that way. BUT.. emotionalism or not, I’d had NEVER answered that question like he did… even more so for that crowd… students who need the hope and faith of the future, and their part in it.
“No.. It’s not Broken”, I mumbled under my breath at the TV.
The politics that makes up our American democracy is most certainly in turmoil no doubt… but in no way is American democracy as represented in our Constitution “broken” or dead, as some might suggest. Not in the least.
I recall back during the Watergate period, I was serving in the Air Force, a kid just into 20-21 years old. I already was thinking the politics of the day, the tumultuous hippie movement, anti-war movement, civil rights violence mixed with radical groups bent of fomenting revolution by blowing up buildings, the government shooting students, far worse than it feels like now. But when the Watergate thing became the constant news story there was the same media issues as now.. special prosecutors, indictments every so often, then the Presidential obsessions with trying to save his own ass. One of the many media observations was how America was being perceived by the world… or even more to the point, how western democracy was appearing to the world. Some said at the time we should feel ashamed, embarrassed as the world looked on (likely laughing.. especially the world’s communist governments of the day).
I was not political in those days one bit. I had some political opinion but I never dwelled on it. But I was aware enough to feel that the Nixon resignation was one of the more prouder events in American history.
“Huh?? How can you suggest that, Dougie-boy?? Nixon was a shameful part of our history!”
Well, maybe shameful as an embarrassing part in American politics, perhaps.. but surely a victory for our Constitution… and.. American democracy. I am a Constitution guy. After all, that’s what I have believed in and defended when I was serving. More to the point, it’s the Constitution that I continue to defend. The damn thing works, just like the Found Fathers had hoped, but beyond their wildest dreams. And it’s worked for 250 years. Is it going to work forever?? Absolutely not because nothing lasts forever. It will last as long as what it represents continues to burn in our hearts collectively as Americans. It will last as long as we wish the current status quo to reflect what it means to be an American, and America.
I am reminded of a Bible story from my youth… the creation of the rainbow following the Great Flood…
And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant which I make between Me and you and every living creature with you, for everlasting generations: 13. I set My rainbow in the cloud, and it shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and the earth . . . and the waters shall no more become a flood to destroy all flesh. (Genesis 9:12, 15, HBFV)
As a child, after a rain when we would see a rainbow my mother would say it was “God’s promise.”
Well, while democracy of any kind is not generally a Biblical accomplishment of any sort, to me the constant reminder of the Constitution’s effectiveness, promise, and hope for the future is in each and every inauguration of the new president; the peaceful transfer of power as the promise of a healthy Constitution. It’s that one day every four years where we come together as Americans (although I will admit this last inauguration day did indeed test that idea, we still came through it because it’s not about the new president at all).
While Watergate may have been a politically embarrassing event, the Constitution still worked… and it will continue to work past our current divisiveness. If the current administration ends up faltering like the Nixon administration, it will be a gut-wrenching time for this country.. but we will make it through as long as we believe in the Constitution.
Me and Fareed
I consider CNN’s Fareed Zakaria one of the smartest media-reporting world political analysts. As political analysts go in general, they are a dime a dozen and typically you cannot take anything that they say alone and with total “voice of the political gospel” credibility without your own critical thinking process. I just happen to find his analysis and supportive fact-based research very credible in building my own opinions. Each person has their own “comfy” sources.
But Zarkaria’s report this week contained his usual editorial, and I had to take difference in some part with him. This week’s story theme was about
Democracy is decaying worldwide. America isn’t immune.
In just one year in office, Trump has already done damage. Besides denigrating critical media outlets and lauding friendly ones, he has threatened to strengthen libel laws, strip network licenses and tax the owner of a particular newspaper. His administration has blocked the merger of a news organization he considers biased, while facilitating the merger of an organization with more favorable coverage.
“An institution,” Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “is the lengthened shadow of one man.” Institutions are collections of rules and norms agreed upon by human beings. If leaders attack, denigrate and abuse them, they will be weakened, and this, in turn, will weaken the character and quality of democracy. The American system is stronger than most, but it is not immune to these forces of democratic decay.
(His full article is HERE)
Zakaria began this editorial presenting the examples of the decline of traditional institutions, specifically the press as the symbol of free speech, in some previously accepted stronger democracies in the world. Specifically Turkey, Poland, Hungary… places where the government has begun a certain “muzzling down” of the press with various actions. Zakaria delivers the typical refrain that the demise of democracy has its roots in the abolition of a free press, hence freedom of speech. For the most part I would have to agree as history does suggests that as it is very obvious that one of the first actions to control a country is to try and keep the public quiet about it; the stopping of dissent. Zakaria is suggesting America is not immune to that threat given some of Trump’s actions and certainly disturbing accusations about trying to quell the media.
I contend that Trump’s perceptions and even some actions, do in fact seem to echo his frustration that free speech as practiced by the press has been hammering away at him and he is likely “bigly” frustrated with them. But in my opinion he is not going anywhere with it other than ruffling some Bill of Rights feathers when he tweets. Trump’s admonishment of certain traditional institutions like the FBI, Department of Justice, etc. is just that… words. During Watergate Nixon hated the FBI and constantly tried to discredit them. On top of that, Associate Director Felts (Deep Throat), had just ordered illegal wiretaps on a couple violent political groups, and just as Hoover died it was being revealed all the illegal things he did using the FBI to spy on U.S. citizens for political dirt. The FBI was not popular back then. This kind of thing is not new. Now, will there ever be a day in some future America where some presidential dictator-wannabe might not try something if they have control of Congress? Well, you never know. But why fear it now? We have a country to run, bills to pay, guns to manage.
American politics you might say is some version of being a little “ill” and transient right now; just another phase, or growing pain, if you will. But American democracy and the Constitution is as healthy as ever.
Here’s my parting shot…
If you think American democracy is sick, then you must be a carrier.