Democracy at Risk

Where are we headed as a country?  We were once – at least we thought – the shiny exemplar of liberal democracy.  Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness were our themes.  We understood that there would be conflicts in these pursuits, but we would work it out.  Reasonable adversaries would discuss and debates paths forward, but eventually settle on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid as key elements of the social safety net.

We had some serious hiccups along the way, notably the Civil War, civil rights conflicts, and our ongoing cultural conflicts.  We are far from skilled at addressing and resolving such conflicts.  We have evolved to a tribal society where each tribe hates the other tribes (left, right, LGBTQ, Jewish, etc.) and advocates violence to thwart the other tribes.  The idea of voters discussing, debating, and deciding has been replaced by the sense that armed conflict is the best strategy.

This trend has been enormously exacerbated by social media.  Our first amendment rights protect anyone’s freedom to say anything.  Opposing politicians can be portrayed as pedophiles.  Their political platforms can be characterized as advocating sodomy and eliminating Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.  Lying is legal and there are minimal consequences, if any, after many years of legal wrangles, perhaps but seldom resolved by the Supreme Court.

What is behind all this?  People have vested interests.  They own slaves and need them to sustain cotton production and their profits.  States have a large defense contractor that provides thousands of jobs, whether or not the system being produced in still relevant to defense.  A state’s economy is highly dependent on Federal revenues despite a majority of the state’s voters being decidedly opposed to any activities by the Federal government.

People tend to understand their vested interests, but not how those interests are served.  They want the revenue, profits, and paychecks sustained, but they do not understand – or care – what it takes to sustain this.  They vote their pocketbooks, not any particular philosophies or policies.  Their only question is, “What’s in it for me?”  It is really that simple?

Social media enables and motivates people to be totally focused on their personal interests.  Companies such as Cambridge Analytica make sure that you never see any content that is not in complete agreement with your perspective.  Everyone completely agrees that all Federal resources should be invested in Groton, Connecticut.  You knew that was the best decision.  Who am I supposed to vote for to make sure this happens?

Democracy is premised on entertaining and making compromises.  Give a little, get a little.  Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. I experienced this when a child and young adult in a small town in New England.  When everybody insists on totally winning, everybody totally loses.  All that results is frustration and outrage, and increasingly violence.  Democracy is at risk.

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