Inter-Belief Conversation Cafe: Is America’s Democracy Fragile?
“Many forms of government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends 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 which have been tried from time to time.” These were Winston Churchill’s thoughts on the subject. Is America revealing how bad democracy can get, or how thin a veneer it has always been? Are we seeing a slide into authoritarian strong man government with the façade but not the reality of democracy? Are competing mobs in the street becoming the new voice of the people? Would we welcome a government in which power and wealth were equitably and fairly distributed — or fear it? Did our system once work better than it does now, or did that “better system” only work for white males?
Democracy means rule by the People — preferably through elections. But have we ever allowed all the People a reasonable chance to vote? Are mail ballots an invitation to fraud, or the only safe way to have an election during a once-in-a-century lethal pandemic? What happens if the postal service can no longer be relied on? What happens if voting sites and mail ballot drop-off points are restricted in urban America? Is ballot harvesting or voter suppression the greater danger? If we have to wait weeks to learn election results (as we did in the 19th Century), can a People expecting instant messages stand the suspense? Is this how democracies die–through uncertainly leading to a basic doubt of legitimacy? How does democracy survive when one side says that no outcome except its own victory is valid?
In authoritarian regimes extra-governmental gangs, security forces, and rule by decree make democracy even by a majority of the people a hopeless struggle. Competing groups fight in the streets and ordinary life comes to a halt. Is Portland our future? Will the Proud Boys and antifa decide who rules? Is mob violence the true “Power to the People”? Can we have justice if demonstrators jeer at accused police officers and their attorneys, or picket the home of a police union head? What happens to a democracy when local homeowners level guns at protest marchers? How close to the ragged edges of tyranny or anarchy are we?
If democracy means rule by the majority, are minorities as safe as America has always claimed? Does Black Lives Matter show our failure of democracy, or is BLM how our democracy will cure itself? Is there a better way to inoculate our “Government of, by, and for the People” against oppression, or is this how our Founding Fathers — who relied on the Sons of Liberty and protesters disguised as Native Americans to toss tea into Boston harbor — thought America’s progress would always happen? In a polarized democracy can the voice of reason even be heard? Can only the loudest and shrillest voices get through to us? Will any entrenched interests peacefully transfer their power? If the Founders’ “promoting the general welfare” and modern activists’ “social justice” mean sharing at least some of our wealth, will Americans do it? Is democratic order a fiction hiding the political force that makes “taxation with (and without?) representation” possible?
What is the glue that binds America’s society together? Some speak of an American “civil religion” consisting of founding documents, speeches of Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, and the inscription on the Statue of Liberty. But do we honestly believe in the freedoms protected in our Bill of Rights? Should Freedom of Speech or Assembly be accorded to the unmasked spreading COVID with each word or prayer, or to those who burn police stations or ride in vigilante caravans? Should Freedom of the Press or to Bear Arms be accorded to QAnon or the Boogaloo Boys? When do individual rights become a threat to democracy, and vice-versa? And who should decide?
On Monday, October 19 from 7-9 PM Inter-belief Conversation Café will Zoom in to save democracy — or at least give it a decent burial. Our agreements of open-mindedness, acceptance, curiosity, discovery, sincerity, brevity, and confidentiality will hopefully keep chaos at bay. Remember an election is coming (unless something anti-democratic happens), so stand up, Zoom in, and be heard!
Zoom link: http://www.zoom.us/j/99973128471