Democracy is a Greek word that means “rule of the people.” The Greeks and Romans believed that citizens should elect their officials and be involved in their governance. Aristotle believed that an ordered and civilized society is achieved only when its citizens and leaders adhere to the same system of established laws. John Locke believed government was a social contract with the people. He believed the role of government was to create order in a society and to protect the rights of life, liberty and property. It is around these principles that our framers wrote the Constitution. Its language establishes a government that protects the needs of the majority against the needs of the few. Its system of checks and balances separates and limits government power to ensure no one group or person has too much control. The Bill of Rights protects against tyranny by government by establishing and protecting the basic and inalienable rights of its citizens. It is by design that major changes to our government are difficult to enact.
Adherence to Law Creates an Ordered and Civilized Society
But for all their power to govern and maintain a civilized society, Democracy is only a concept and the Constitution is merely a document. And even the most intelligently designed system of government has its flaws and vulnerabilities. What happens when our leaders make decisions that are not in the spirit of the Constitution, when our government’s marriage to corporation results in widespread moral hazard? What is the effect on the nation when the people realize the government’s support and protection of big business has become more important than the rule of law or its social contract with the people? How does behavior change when these perversions of our framer’s grand vision result in economic disaster and a polarized nation whose ideological division is magnified by its politicians? What are the consequences when the people don’t feel the system is working?
The Erosion of Civility
The rules of an ordered and civilized society change when these conditions exist. Evolution and natural selection dictate that they must. These factors effectively necessitate the adoption of a survival of the fittest mindset, of which social exploitation and economic opportunism are consequences. This fundamental change in mentality further divides the nation into two groups: Those willing to adapt their behavior and morals to harsher times and those that are not. This invariably leads to a culture of predators and victims. You can see it all around you, in how people act increasingly out of self-interest, in the ways companies conduct themselves, in increasingly hateful and divisive speech, in the violent crime in our communities, in how transactional in nature our friendships have become, in diminishing altruism, in how the world has become simultaneously apathetic and hostile. It brings out the worst in society. And some, including our current leadership, would seek to use the disenfranchisement and changes in the attitude of their citizens for their own personal, political and financial gain.
Overthrowing the Dems
The Conservatives of today are keenly aware of the paradigm shift and have used it to its full advantage. They have built their political strategy around the realization that their liberal opponents refuse to adapt and remain shackled to moral and principle. It has been through the use of uncivilized, deceitful and exploitative tactics that the Republicans have toppled the Democratic rule and assumed control of our system of government. Republican Supreme Court justices decided Citizens United, whose reversal of a 200 year prohibition on lobbying gave rise to super PACs. They have gerrymandered districts to exclude minorities and political opposition. They have lobbied and funneled millions of dollars into political action committees that push conservative agendas. They have been building a conservative media apparatus since the Reagan era that is used to attack opponents and publish alternative facts. And they now control Congress, have a majority in the Senate and House of Representatives, have installed a Republican President, and have tipped the scales of the Supreme Court. And many actions of the Trump administration have been in the service of undermining the very system of checks and balances that make the governance of our nation a democratic process.
Fighting for Liberty
The founding of America was possible only because the colonies fought for their freedom and independence. They were led by some amazing minds the likes of George Washington, James Madison, and Thomas Jefferson. Against all odds, these early revolutionaries won an almost impossible battle. The past two centuries have seen America’s involvement in two World Wars and a civil war. When our freedoms and values are under attack or democracy is threatened, we have never shied away from conflict or been afraid to fight to protect them. The fighting spirit is a part of our American identity and has guided us when powers conspire to erode our nation’s greatness.
The Necessary Course of Action
The Republicans have spent the last 30 years finding and exploiting the weaknesses in our system, some of which great revolutionary minds like Patrick Henry warned us about in detail in The Anti-Federalist Papers. So how do we restore balance to the governance of our nation? The Democrats must fight for control, and they must win. The climate has changed and the Democratic party must be willing to engage in the same tactics the Republicans used to gain control. This means a fundamental shift in attitude that allows for making peace with the idea of winning at any cost. A change in the ranks also has to happen. Young and passionate Democratic leadership must be attracted and cultivated. Independents, Progressives and disenfranchised Republicans must be courted and won over. The party must unite under a universal cause. This process will require listening in earnest to the needs of these often-opposed parties and moving closer to center without alienating those on the far left. The subsequent battle against extremism will require intelligence, leadership, creativity, patience, stamina and tremendous blood, sweat and tears in order to be won. But the alternative may be a failure of our democratic experiment and the loss of our inalienable rights.
Mike Gallo is a Phi Theta Kappa member and a web designer pursuing a degree in psychology in Southwest Virginia. He enjoys philosophy, movies and outdoor activities. He lives in Roanoke with his family and two cats.