When I was an adolescent, two of my big goals were visions of idealism. The first was to run for the U.S. Senate, the second was to become a journalist. The first one has been placed on indefinite hold ever since my youth. The second one came to fruition, and in some ways is still being played out.
What was the idealism of my youth and still lingers in some form today? Democracy–the concept was not only instilled; it was and is terrifically fascinating.
Practically everybody dreams of a peaceful world. Most of us understand there is no way to truly achieve such a world through violence nor through discrimination of any sort. If we want this dream to come true and remain true we understand that democracy is the answer. When we calmly and rationally think about such a world, democracy should be a means and a goal.
One of my role models has long been the complex, magnanimous, larger than life man, Franklin D. Roosevelt. Early on, FDR transcended the elite status of his family background and became sincerely interested in his fellow citizens. Many of his peers never forgave him for this. Certainly, FDR was a flawed individual whose public persona was projected in a way so as to show him as a physically strong man. During Roosevelt’s day physical disabilities were perceived as weaknesses.
Yet, FDR was a headstrong man whose forthrightness was necessary for the difficult years of the Great Depression and the Second World War. His prime motivating ideal was democracy. He reminded the nation of this basic truth about the United States. “Let us never forget that government is ourselves and not an alien power over us. The ultimate rulers of our democracy are not a President and Senators and congressmen and government officials, but the voters of this country.”
Even though the US has never been a pure democracy, it has been and ostensibly continues to be a democratic republic. We are a republic with democracy at its core. That’s why we can truly use the pronoun “we” to describe our nation.
It’s important to remember who we are and why we need to preserve our democratic republic. This is especially true these days when oligarchy and deceit threaten the very structures of the nation. The most powerfully financed, vocal individuals demean the democratic process and denigrate our basic civic institutions, like education, civil rights, and journalism.
A public that understands the importance of preserving our educational system, individual rights, and keeping our checks and balances robust is a public that will keep the ideal of democracy strong. Information must be freely and fairly disseminated to everyone, regardless of social status. When information is distorted, democracy quickly breaks down. This is why I was attracted to broadcast journalism. Informally, the press is the fourth branch of our democratic republic.
In this day and age, cynicism and distrust have been cultivated by individuals who have less than democratic motivation. Uncertainty and fear about our institutions narrows our vision for the country. Such negativity fosters dislike of each other. “Wedge issues” are exploited to drive further division and create disunity. This is the unfortunate situation we find ourselves in today.
The foundation of such negativity is corruption. Corruption can be seen as a cancer that overwhelms the citizenry’s faith in democracy. When this happens, a nation’s instincts for creativity and innovation suffer. National budgets are looted by the already powerful. The result is that basic obligations and national investments are neglected. When democracy is hurt, so is the economy.
There is less democracy and more each person for themselves anarchy. There is a destructive mindset that freedom is only reserved for the individual and that it should be taken at the expense of one’s fellow citizens. Some have forgotten that democracy is a shared, social experiment and not a clique formed only out of like-minded folks. Every single person has a stake.
The point of today’s post on this blog is to prove one of our nation’s founding fathers wrong in his assessment of democracy. John Adams stated, “Democracy… while it lasts is more bloody than either aristocracy or monarchy. Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There is never a democracy that did not commit suicide.”
At the present moment, it looks like our democratic republic is in the process of killing itself. I do not want to be a party to such destruction. I don’t want these to be the sunset years of democracy at home and abroad.
The Blue Jay of Happiness taps into another thought from writer Isaac Asimov. “There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life; nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”