Is America’s Democracy Fragile?

Inter-belief Conversation Café will explore how likely is it that American democracy will succeed.

Is America’s democracy fragile? What is fragility? The dictionary says a quality of being delicate or vulnerable. When demonstrators break into the US Capitol and disrupt a vote count does that show a fragile democracy? When after the rioters leave Congress returns and finishes the count the same day, does that show resilience? If the protestors genuinely believed they were stopping a steal, does this make them new sons and daughter of liberty standing up for democracy or a dangerous mob that threatens to end it? Is democracy delicate when it is violently tested or fails to perform or shown strong when the test is passed, and the right action finally taken? Who decides what the will of the people is?

The United States fought a revolutionary war against Britain. It endured a bloody civil war. Its Greatest Generation endured a depression and a global war. It has survived Vietnam and Watergate. It has elected a diverse collection of presidents including Reagan, Clinton, two Bushes, Obama, and Trump. We see a polarized electorate dating back to Jefferson and Hamilton. Is this a fragile state or a powerful one with a Constitution intact after close to a quarter millennium? Are we on the brink of destruction? Are democracies always in danger of collapse and their strength is the ability to teeter on the edge but still recover? Do our internal struggles suggest that we are weak or strong?

Winston Churchill remarked that democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others. Is disappointment inherent in a system where in each election there are winners and losers? How does America stack up compared to the rest of the world? Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire, Czarist Russia, and the Soviet Union lasted a long time but where are they now? How many “democracies” exist as opposed to countries ruled by a strong man or oligarchy with elections an exercise in barely concealed fraud? Are we in danger of joining the failed states or an example of how to be a successful one? Are we a shining city on a hill inspiring others or an empire undermining freedom in other lands? Are we democracy’s best hope? If we are, how happy should that make other countries?

What qualities make us strong not fragile? Is it our economy? What if much of our manufacturing is outsourced to Third World countries? Is it military power? Does might really make right? Is it our beacon of hope to the oppressed to find a new life here? Do we still want them? Is it our commitment to human rights? Why do we need to be reminded that Black Lives Matter? Are we strong because we consume a disproportionate share of the world’s resources or because we send money and other aid to countries in need? Would another Great Depression or the rise of China and other economies see our power disappear? Rudyard Kipling in the poem “Recessional” written when the sun never set on the British Empire predicted the end of that empire and that “all our pomp of yesterday is one with Nineveh and Tyre.”. Is that us in fifty years?

Can we reach a consensus on what makes us fragile and what makes us resilient? Is strength the mighty oak which stands tall but breaks under a powerful wind or the reed which bends and survives? Do we rely on principle or compromise? Is a divided government paralyzed or prevented from doing harm? Do we need passion for the good or cool judgment of what is possible? Can we balance these concepts? Are we frustrated with what government has not done or fearful that it will intrude on our lives too much? Do liberals, progressives, Trump supporters, and traditional conservatives agree on what we need to be strong not fragile? If we are so divided, aren’t we delicate and vulnerable? Or does the motto E Pluribus Unum assume we will be divided, but will come together when it counts? In light of the pandemic, George Floyd, and the last election, how hopeful are we can survive the tests ahead?

Our agreements of open-mindedness, acceptance, curiosity, discovery, sincerity, brevity, and confidentiality hopefully will keep the discussion civil even if they seem a little out of place in a polarized society. Remember on Zoom no one can throw things at you!

Zoom link: http://www.zoom.us/j/99973128471