How Do We Restore Faith in Our Democracy?

Published: June 4, 2021

By Jim Lichtman
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For 3 long days, the battle raged. The following night, in a heavy rain, General Lee withdrew his troops from the battlefield of Gettysburg. The union had won a costly but critical battle and turned the tide of the Civil War.

Four months later, Lincoln, a Republican, standing in the midst of a crowd, summed the words that would be the beginning of making the country whole again. “…that this nation… shall have a new birth of freedom…”

Despite Lincoln’s inspiring words, much of that division remained for the next 100 years. Today, that bitterness and division has spread to more parts of the country, and causing far too many to believe divisive, hateful lies.

According to a PRRI poll (May 17), “15 percent of Americans agree with the sweeping QAnon allegation that ‘the government, media, and financial worlds in the U.S. are controlled by a group of Satan-worshipping pedophiles who run a global child sex trafficking operation.’ ”

“Fifteen percent of Americans agree that ‘Because things have gotten so far off track, true American patriots may have to resort to violence in order to save our country.’ While the vast majority (85 percent) disagree, 28 percent of Republicans believe the statement.”

Malicious and self-serving lies from a former president enlarged the alienation of a significant segment of Americans leading to a disease of distrust in federal and state institutions; institutions like the CDC who were created to help us all in times like those we’ve faced over past year.

However, a greater harm to our nation has come from Republicans in Congress, many who continue spread the lies of a fraudulent election. Instead of standing up and standing for the truth – a truth that state republicans verified in the last election – these Republicans have put their jobs ahead of honesty and responsibility. And the cost to the country is distrust, the one thing a vital democracy cannot afford to lose.

A January Gallup Poll found that members of Congress had trust ranking of only 8 percent.

In a January article by Kathleen Rest, the executive director of The Union of Concerned Scientists, entitled, “Restoring Faith and Trust in a Democracy,” writes, Accountability… is a matter of standing up for morality, for ethics, and—in this case—for our constitutional democracy. … Our democracy relies on the ability of we the people to hold our elected leaders accountable – including the president.”

How do we make the country whole again? How do we restore faith in American democracy?

From my standpoint, it’s all about ethics. No democracy can exist unless the elected leadership accepts their responsibility to it. Those whom we trust and elect must demonstrate character – the ethical and moral strength to do the right thing for the right reasons.

The first point in the Code of Conduct by the House Committee on Ethics states, “A Member, Delegate, Resident Commissioner, officer, or employee of the House shall behave at all times in a manner that shall reflect creditably on the House.”

Creditably: admiral, honorable.

Chief among all aspects of trust is honesty. Those representing our best interests and brightest hopes cannot mislead, deceive, or act in their own interests. While loyal to their constituents, loyalty to the Constitution must come first when they must choose principle over popular opinion.

However, democracy requires participation by its citizens. First among them is to recognize and accept the facts. In defense of British soldiers accused in the Boston Massacre, John Adams told the jury, “Facts are stubborn things. And whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”

Every American not only has the right but the responsibility to vote, choosing those who will, by their decision-making, strive to make the right choices not only for those they represent but the nation, whose interests they also serve.

Only by having an engaged citizenry, one that recognizes its responsibilities as well as its rights; only when we elect honorable leaders can we begin to restore our faith in democracy.


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