Clearly our Democracy is under attack from within. As I said in a previous article, “Since the election of Donald Trump many Americans are even more worried about the demise of our Democracy.”
However, Democracy is not only under threat from within; it is in even more danger from forces outside our boundaries. The threats are so many and so varied at this particular moment in time that we are tempted to ask, can Democracy survive? Many even argue that it is a form of government that is nearing obsolescence because it is falling prey to weaknesses that Democracy organically carries within it. Apparently many have warned, from the ancient Greeks and Romans to our Forefathers that Democracy could fall prey to the rich and powerful and is prone to allow for the rise of a dictator, possibilities that they warned us would have to be constantly guarded against.
As we near the 250th year of our survival as a Democracy many Americans feel that we live in a Democracy in name only; that our idealistic experiment in government “of the people, by the people, and for the people” has been directed off the main track and detoured on to a side rail where it has been gussied up and occupied by wealthy Americans who allow the people to believe they still have a say in their own governance, but who are actually so inconsequential as to constitute a “pesky” populace that must be occasionally addressed only because they outnumber the “great men” by millions.
America’s younger citizens, such as millennials and Gen-Xers, etc. argue that our Democracy is so corrupt that it may be impossible to restore it to anything approaching integrity and they were happy to back a “democratic socialist” in the last election, He was a person they believed possessed enough personal integrity to put our government back on a track that would level the playing field between wealthy and not so wealthy, at least to some degree. They did not so much care if that government resembled the Republic described in our founding documents, only that whatever form our government took it remained the government of “common” man and “great” man alike. I’m thinking many of us who are not in these generational groups hoped to hear a few more concrete details about what form of government might actually accomplish these goals.
No matter, these movements show that the very fundamental ideology of Democracy is being challenged as the actual practice of democracy becomes less and less like the original ideological idea of democracy that gave it a powerful sway over people’s minds since the American and French revolutions.
Part of this challenge exists, perhaps, because authoritarian states are capturing more and more of our attention right now in this improbable moment when we thought we would be conquering Space, but are instead wandering backward through old Arabic dynasties so used to the rule of “strong” men that they are thrown into chaos at the loss of them and they do not know where to turn but are at the mercy of new strong men, however cruel. Until Arabic nations and African nations settle down and treat, by belief or nation, with each other and form governments and economies that allow them to reside comfortably with other nations in the world as it exists right now the chaos will continue to spill out everywhere.
In fact Democracy seems in retreat and under attack everywhere. It seems that we are almost to a point where someone will be able to say “you are surrounded, put your hands up, your guns down and surrender”. Russia is run by a man who believes that he is a “strong” man. North Korea is run by a man who believes that he is a “strong” man. China has a seemingly benign but very authoritarian leader. We have Duterte in the Philippines. We have ISIS who uses terror to telegraph strength. We have Assad, the Taliban, and al qaeda and Boko Haram and plenty of thugs and drug lords, all believing they are “strong” men. And now we have one of these “strong” men in the very heart of our Democracy.
I always pictured that if we had to fight for our government it would be in some clearly delineated, black and white situation like World War II. But this is not that kind of fight, and it is battle that could conceivably be engaged on so many fronts, and that our forces would be so divided, that winning might be impossible. The potential battles are subtle. Is Putin a big enough threat that we must be incredibly alert and gird ourselves to do some kind of battle or is he just toying with us? How do you combat someone like Duterte without resorting to the never effective regime change?
How do we create a message that turns ISIS into a blowhard false prophet whose strength leaves it like the air from a balloon? How do we help large swaths of Africa become positive partners on a continent that supports itself and its people and joins the world community as an equal in fighting the challenges to come as world population increases? Perhaps the climate in Africa offers too great a challenge to prosperity. Perhaps climate change will bring Africa a more moderate climate which will change its fate. Many South American nations are not thriving, also possibly due to challenges of climate and geography.
Europe and North America seem relatively small places when you enumerate the “strong” man nations and the chaotic nations, and the non-thriving nations that are all around them. Will our Democracy survive this moment when it is challenged from within and without and when many question whether a Democracy is a government for the long haul, or a short term pipe dream of a few educated revolutionaries? As someone who does not see a better plan at the moment than a Democracy for running a tolerable and tolerant society, I feel as beleaguered at this moment as the America I love seems to be, and just as helpless to offer good solutions, although I think dealing with the insurrection in our own nation would be a start.