Warning: long post ahead, detour if you like…I believe Justice Souter’s theory, and I believe the lessons here go beyond whatever happens on November 8th. I don’t mean to get too “tin-foil hat wearing eccentric”, but I also believe this type of scenario results from a sabotage of our educational system – from elementary all the way to the proliferation of for-profit post-secondary. This has occurred over the last several decades with plenty of responsibility for it to be spread around the political spectrum. If we really fancy ourselves as a democratic society, it is imperative there is a common realization that this comes with responsibilities. Some of those responsibilities are understanding the fundamental structure and function of our democratic institutions. I feel some of the same frustrations many people feel about our system today, most of which I believe come from the influence of money in warping that system as well as the pillars that support it – education and independent media being two significant ones.
When I listen to some people’s frustrations, I sometimes hear mixed with those words a confusion and frustration concerning how our democracy is designed to function. Increasingly, I believe this because it was never taught to them, and that is a failure of a democratic society. However, this is also a failure of personal responsibility of someone who participates in a democratic society. We citizens must be curious, apply critical thinking, seek and thoughtfully consider alternative viewpoints. Question your assumptions to broaden our understanding of our system – its strengths, its weaknesses and how it must be nurtured. We must apply the same vigor to the civic responsibility of voting (a responsibility and a privilege) by understanding the candidates and issues. Vote! Whoever or whatever you vote for, be a fully-informed voter – look for information beyond the echo chamber you might be in to make your decision (something I have to challenge myself on regularly). Votes are counted. Winners are declared. A fundamental premise of a democracy is the integrity of the commitment to it, whatever the result of an election. A healthy democracy figures out how to work – together – to integrate those results in a way that moves the society forward.
Our democratic society feels as though it has a fever right now. If we are truly the democracy we have always aspired to be, then we need to treat the patient rather than throwing up our hands and sending it to hospice, either because we don’t like how it looks or understand how it got sick. We need to treat it using the fundamental principles of democracy, have patience and compassion as it recovers, and create a healthier environment for it to flourish.