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It is said that Winston Churchill spoke in the House of Commons on November 11, 1947, and said… “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.” While that quote is his, the words and meaning originate from another source. But it nonetheless reminds us that at times democracy can be a real bitch to live with. Yet our Founding Fathers were wise to go a little further by making America a “republic”; they feared as well the tyranny of the majority as much as that of a king. Hence we elect our representatives to do our legislative “voting”. For the most part that (the Constitution) has survived to be the longest running form of government currently in existence in the world. But as old Winston essentially lamented, it ain’t perfect but it’s the best we got for now.
Many times it’s been a double-edged thing. Living inside a democracy does NOT guarantee things get done efficiently or even correctly. It’s a form of government that represents the will of the people… and that will is not always just, and right, nor will it always represent a wise and sage exploitation of common sense. The will of the people typically means the will of the MAJORITY of the people… and often includes compromises. This is American democracy working as advertised. But this is not to suggest American democracy doesn’t have its own set of morality, love for its freedoms (and a desire to spread them around the world), a dedication to human rights (by our own definition), and a very healthy devotion to the arrogance of human accomplishment and economic independence. These elements, and more, remain our American ideals, that colors our kind of democracy.
But what about when democracy becomes dysfunctional, like when an obviously inferior candidate can get elected president on what amounts to an electoral technicality without a popular majority, or when Congress delays funding the country to the point where the government shuts down, or the political mood of the country is so politically divisive so as to stall necessary legislation? Well, I tend to conclude that democracy is always working as designed and that it’s the people.. in fact, that old “will of the people” as reflected through our elected officials… becomes so politically and uncompromisingly paralyzed that it can’t function within the Constitutional process without tripping over itself. Democracy is working fine. It’s the players that are struggling. Who are the players? Well, we the people… the political parties themselves… our elected officials.
And The Media?
Well, back before the Internet and instant technology, the media simply did, in fact, just inform. Something occurred and the media reported it… using the filter of time to spread through society during periods of local news cycles and at scheduled times from which we could absorb it in moderate doses. Media tended to reflect society in those days and its influence in political and social change was far less dramatic than today. These days the media also provides analysis along with traditional news, in a 24/7 news cycle… and it becomes far more difficult for the average person to separate in their own minds factual news from opinion. Any person with a smart phone not only can receive instant news.. or instant opinion, that person can essentially be a cog in sending and repeating the news… and even reporting the news via social media outlets. A phone video instantly posted to YouTube can go viral and affect social unrest across the world at literally the speed of light… before any media outlet picks it up as news. We can certainly acknowledge that social impact of instant communication is reflected in the degree of how “we, the people” push our elected officials to act or not. In other words, the will of the people changes with the next Tweet and by comparison traditional Constitutional politics moves at the speed of human beings walking across a room, shaking hands, and simply talking. By the time a compromise is made on one side of that room it’s changed in the time it takes to walk to the other side of the room.
The media does far more than report the news anymore. It’s the cultural conduit by which anything and everything is shoved through; it has become the amplifier of our social and political content and discontent. Just forget all the reporting “angles”, liberal and conservative bias, factual or fake content. The media itself, which now includes those of us who own smart phones and engage in social media, simply by nature of its existence and purpose within our society, and the technological speed in which it operates, has become the waste treatment facility of all the crap flowing in our society. The “reporting on what happens in the world”, which is the essence of what makes up “the media”, has become a nightmare of and by itself simply by nature of the volume of information be shoved into that conduit that needs treatment for us to even assimilate a fraction of it.
No, I’m not dissing the “professional” media; the folks who truly do try and report with some semblance of objectivity. Very few of these folks wake up in the morning and plan another day of reporting bias in favor of their personal political agenda.. or would even continue to tolerate having media management continually directing them on what to report on and how frequent to report it, just to keep their job. Yet if your job is with a media outlet designed to be all those things to a certain public market, then that further confuses the public. It’s freedom of the press gone wild… and objectivity is a blur. I wouldn’t trade all that for the world because it IS our First Amendment in action… and it’s up to ME to interpret what I am seeing and reading… and not surrendering all my common sense to a talking head. The press is also evolving during these crazy times. But they still provide that check on government I value and what the Founding Fathers envisioned. Our democracy still works.
Trump Has Been President For One Year.
That year has been the second most confusing, politically divisive, embarrassing, and completely chaotic political, and cultural, nightmare in my lifetime (second only to the complete chaos of 1968-1969). I do sense an end to it.. but I have no idea if that will be this year or the next… or he manages to complete a full term. But in the short term… it’s going to be a lot more of what we have just experienced in his first year in office. Yet our democracy still works. One can certainly argue that the will of the people is not fully utilizing the tools of our democracy effectively enough to correct the bad match sitting in the Oval Office… but that’s not the fault of the process.
As Of This Writing We Are Currently Experiencing Yet Another Government Shutdown.
Largely an overlap of the incompetence brought in by Trump himself in his indecision, nonetheless, the current shutdown situation represents the complete confusion within our political “system”.. meaning the two parties are both experiencing shifts in identity and purpose, reflecting much the general confusion being experienced politically and culturally around the country. Interestingly we currently have a three party system being represented in our government… the Republicans, the Democrats, and Trump. In spite of this crisis in party identity and purpose, and in spite of faltering and incompetent presidential leadership, democracy is still working for us.
Now.. as one reads all this so far one might interpret these events, causes, and effects as all being set in the background of some failing economy. But quite the contrary. All this cultural and political divide and discontent is happening within a backdrop of huge economic growth for the country. There is a strong dissonance between economic growth and the distribution of that growth across the economic classes. This trend has to adjust and evolve… but when it’s added to the cultural shift of what was traditional white America then there’s the growing pains of our current “now”. But our democracy still works.
One can argue that this last year has been one gigantic embarrassment for American democracy. I would suggest we fall back and see the greater picture here. The last year has NOT been a fault of American democracy but rather the players in the game tripping over the process without firm leadership.. on all sides. An incompetent President who has severely diminished American prestige in the world, a floundering, leaderless Congress representing party confusion that in itself represents a confused constituency, and a media on reporting overload, trying to retain its place within the First Amendment in the hearts of all Americans.
And What About The Courts? Rather, What About The The Court?
Americans on any “good” day are always trying to politicize the courts… and the Supreme Court. Judges are constantly appointed based on their individual political ideologies not so much for their impartiality in rendering their judicial judgement in legal cases… but rather how they might be swayed in the social and cultural (and moral) government-vs.-life issues of the day… like homosexuality and abortion. Liberals want liberal judges… Conservatives want conservative judges. We are so worried that the media cannot report the news objectively, yet we don’t care how partial a judge makes decisions as long as that partiality reflects our own politics. But.. within all this conflict… our democracy still works.
What is truly scary to me is that all this chaos and confusion in the past year, all this political and cultural divide spreading across the country, all this crazy social discontent… is somehow reflected in this so-called “Trump’s base”. What’s scary is that someplace, somewhere in America there’s a “base” who is relishing all this; a kind of “just short of anarchy” segment of the population that loves all this… because it originates from a President who relishes all this also. Apparently the polls are showing some 35% love Trump and this national chaos. BUT.. again… democracy still works, this “base” can only go so-far by law… and it matters not if Trump completes his term… he can’t last forever.
American democracy does indeed work. We could sure use some players who can play the game.