Is Our Democracy Really Dysfunctional?

There are times in each our lives when we must step back and honestly reassess who and what we truly are. Often, the impetus for such assessments are involuntary. It may be an unexpected life event like a job layoff, a near-death experience, or the death of a friend or loved one. Something that jolts us out of our complacency and compels us to rethink every aspect of our lives. Such events are unavoidable and at least, in some circumstances, a positive development. What truly matters, and is critical to the potential benefit from the event, is the 100% honest and factual based effort to make that assessment. Why did this happen? What are the real reasons behind it and how should I proceed going forward?

I think that the United States of America, its’ government and citizens, are experiencing just such a life-changing jolt now!  This has not been caused by the election or defeat of any particular person in a specific way or level. The Presidential election in 2016 was going to happen regardless of who was actually competing for it. The outcome of that election however, was a result of a major, nationwide reassessment of who and what we truly are, and perhaps more accurately, of who and what we hope to be. I’d like to examine that a bit further.

In the New York Times print newspaper from 01/04/17, there was an opinion piece written by Eduardo Porter under his Economic Scene segment that examines whether or not the American democracy is broken. You can read this article for yourself via the link, however my interpretation of the essay is that Mr. Porter seems to feel that the winning candidate in the 2016 Presidential election is basically an authoritarian strongman with the intention of serving the elite versus the ordinary working class Americans. He seems to believe that the millions of people who voted for him  chose to ignore his resemblance to dictatorial strongmen, current and past, who started out as populist but ended up keeping their citizens down and made to buckle under their rule. Admittedly, there are millions who may agree with that, or at least be concerned that the door to that path has become slightly ajar. The article further defines and details the perceived reasons behind the dysfunction of our democracy in the United States. It’s that reassessment idea I spoke of earlier.

My main reason for citing this article is that, although Mr. Porter references many of the symptoms of democratic dysfunction in the US, he attributes the single greatest source of that dysfunction to the actual design and structure of our political institutions! The fundamental pillars of our republic! These institutions are described and established in the Constitution of the United States. They cannot be ignored, nor can they simply be overhauled or swept away because of the existence of inequality, a declining social safety net, stagnant incomes or any other difficult problem facing the United States in 2017. The Constitution of the United States has been in force since 1789, after a huge and difficult national debate, an effort on a scale not seen since that era. I urge you to undertake the reading of the Federalist Papers  which will astound you and amaze you as you learn about the persistence and determination of three of the Founding Fathers to explain and masterfully defend the principles and justification for our incredible nation contained in the new Constitution. The clear and convincing ideas contained in those Papers served to convince a very skeptical and wary populace to ratify and accept the simplified and codified tenets of government contained in the extraordinary document called the Constitution of the United States. It should also be read and re-read by all Americans, particularly those who blame the political institutions conceived in the late 18th century that gave us our precious nation and continue to secure its’ existence, for our current ‘dysfunction’. In fact, it is those exact institutions that will PROTECT us from the authoritarian strongman who would subvert our citizens and undermine our nation.

 

In the Year 2017

As we hurtle towards a major shift in both the political and geo-political spheres that exist in both the United States and the entire world, we are reminded of the law of unintended consequences. It is both a very exciting time to live in as well as a deeply unsettling and uncertain time to live. I think there is great hope throughout our nation and the world, and perhaps that is somewhat driven by the calendar, as today is the first day of 2017. It goes beyond that, however. One of the greatest differences among nations and cultures, at least to a much larger degree here in the United States, is that despite legitimate worry and concern over a very different kind of government coming to power, our citizens today are as courageous, determined, resilient and capable as any generation that came before, even the Greatest Generation. There will no doubt be moments of great accomplishment and setback, great hope and bitter disappointment.

The key is to become and remain involved. To become and remain engaged. To become and remain vigilant. We must also display our understanding, our compassion, and our ability to see beyond ourselves and seriously and civilly speak and act towards one another. Those qualities are the ones that will sustain our nation and ourselves and limit the unintended consequences of the changes to come.

Dueling Presidencies

At the very least, the Great Interregnum of 2016 has added yet one more slice of evidence to support the existence of the unprecedented polarization in current day America. The interregnum is the Latin word denoting ‘between reigns’. In today’s political environment, it represents the perilous time between Election Day and Inauguration Day.

Even the two men at the pinnacle of American power-in-transition are akin to the Hatfields and the McCoys and their uncertain grudges against one another. One presidency, the current ACTUAL president, has continued to issue executive orders, execute foreign policy directives, grant clemency to large numbers of convicted criminals, claim federal privilege over millions of acres of land, and slap the hands of world leaders, both allies and enemies.

The other presidency, the presidency-in-waiting if you will, and the ACTUAL president-elect, refuses to wait his turn, and has issued his own twitter-based edicts and assessments of both domestic AND foreign policy. Despite his uncharacteristic deference to the current president with the use of his words, he truly feels as though he is being undermined and even hand-cuffed by the actions taken by the POTUS. He may be right.

Even more bizarre is the interjection of a THIRD presidency, that of the leader of Russia, into the politics as usual in America and has had the effect of making the interregnum reminiscent of the WWF tag-team events when two wrestlers gang up on one of the opposition whose team mate is flat on his back in the ring. I might be tempted to assign that fallen team mate as the president of Israel, however he seems to be as anxious to see the peaceful transition of power in America happen as both the president of Russia and the president-elect do.

What can be said of all this thrashing and bashing? Perhaps it is not so unpresidented (sorry, unprecedented) in the history of the United States as it may seem. Certainly it provides for interesting times, although that old Chinese curse of  ‘May you live in interesting times’ is a bit unsettling to contemplate. After all, yet ANOTHER president of a large and powerful country, China, seems bound and determined to challenge the reigning WWF contenders for Champion of The World!