American democracy is in mortal danger of being permanently contaminated by––in fact, consumed by––a campaign of bizarre conspiracy theories and horrific lies. The purpose of the campaign is to strip away the primary ingredient in the people’s sovereignty: their vote. To those of you who are supporting this campaign and its propagators, I suggest that you swallow hard, open your brain and examine the nonsense you are being fed.
If you believe that Joe Biden is not the legally-elected President of the United States; if you believe that Donald Trump received more votes than Biden in 2020; if you believe that the insurrectionists invading the Capitol on January 6 were displaying (as the ex-president proclaimed) the “spirit of faith and love” rather than hateful violence;
If your primary purveyors of political news are from sources like Donald Trump, Newsmax, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham and Tucker Carlson; if you hold the spirit of Rush Limbaugh in your heart; if you believe that President Joe Biden wants to defund police; if you think the GOP movement to quash voting is designed to stop fraud rather than to sacrifice American democracy in the interest of their own power…”
Critical Race Theory: A Serious Examination of Past and Present
If you think the “critical race theory” strips power from white people instead of being an honest examination of how three centuries of imbedded racism infected our culture and still today affects the lives of African Americans; if you support the GOP movement to limit teaching of U.S. history to stories about heroic white men; if you think for a moment that today’s GOP supports democracy over autocracy; if Trump remains your preferred leader of the free world, and if you buy into his outrageous lies and hysterical conspiracies; if you believe any of this, please stop reading this blog. Return to your comfort zone. I am done trying to understand you or to have a conversation with you.
You see, I love America and I believe she is in great danger. I believe our Constitution proclaims ideals of liberty, justice and equality that have inspired not only generations of Americans but people around the world. The fact that 234 years after the document was adopted we are still struggling to live up to those ideals does not diminish its power or its relevancy. It, like our flag, is a symbol of our best aspirations. But the Constitution is much more than symbolic. It provides substantive direction and guidance as to how we should organize and govern ourselves in order to turn principles into realities.
The form of government set forth in the Constitution is that of a democratic republic. This was explained in The Federalist #10, where James Madison defined democracy as popular government in which the people rule directly, and a republic “as one in which the people rule indirectly through representatives.”
Overcoming Our Errors with Perseverance
Our democratic republic has been woven together by centuries of American people who fought for, worked for, celebrated and appropriately criticized their country. We have made many missteps over the years—slavery and continued discrimination, subjugation of native people, environmental destruction, misguided wars, economic policies that favor the rich over the poor, and electing leaders who are not up to the task. But, somehow, we have persevered, not perfectly, but we have persevered. I sense that our perseverance is now waning.
I have found that it sometimes helps to step back and ponder a view from the outside, and on this subject I turned to the work of Alexis de Tocqueville. When Tocqueville, a French diplomate and scholar, read the Constitution and The Federalist # 10 he was inspired to visit America. He wanted, he wrote, to “see what a great republic is like.” The Frenchman departed for a nine-month stay in 1831. He traveled throughout the country and interviewed statesmen, elected officials and people on the streets.
Tocqueville came to understand that “In America the principle of sovereignty of the people…is proclaimed by laws; it spreads with freedom and reaches its final consequences without obstacle.” He proclaimed that “Democracy’s greatness and beauty are in its justice.” But he warned that “the dangers of excessive, wrong-headed democratic passion and materialism” could undermine the nation by turning the people away, resulting in what he called “democratic apathy.”
Sovereignty and Justice
This sums up my concern: sovereignty of the people is expressed through the ballot box. Whether justice is practiced or denied depends largely on who the people elect to administer it. What we are seeing today is what Tocqueville warned us about: excessive, wrong-headed passion is spurring a minority of the people. But it turns away millions of others through a two-prong approach: fueling “democratic apathy” by turning governance into a clown show, and adopting policies designed to limit access to the ballot box.
In the introduction to his book Tocqueville wrote that he was “not precisely in anyone’s camp…I didn’t mean either to serve or to contest any party; I undertook to see, not differently, but further than the parties; and while they are occupied with the next day, I wanted to ponder the future.” We must do both simultaneously: be occupied with action today, and be aware that what we do today sets a course that will lead to the future nation our children’s grandchildren will inherit. As it was said about Oscar Romero: We are the prophets of a future not our own. Let us wear that mantle with thankfulness, thoughtfulness and a firm grounding in truth and justice.
Bill Jamieson’s career has included leadership positions in business, government, and education. He was also an ordained deacon in the Episcopal Church and his ministry centered around advocacy for low-income families and children.