How Can We Restore Our Faith in Democracy?

Published: November 23, 2020

By Jim Lichtman
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“No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried.…” – Winston Churchill

Commander David R. Scott gives a military salute Aug. 1, 1971 while standing beside the deployed U.S. flag during the Apollo 15 lunar surface mission at the Hadley-Apennine landing site. Photo: NASA

We think of America as exceptional, the leader of the free world, an example of doing the right thing. However, we’ve made our share of mistakes.

The Comstock Act, the Wilmington Coup, Jim Crow laws, the Chinese Exclusion Act, Executive Order 9066 calling for the internment of Japanese Americans, Plessy v. Ferguson, the Dred Scott decision, McCarthyism, the My Lai Massacre, Watergate.

Journalist and political commentator, Walter Lippmann, “…argued that modern mass communication created ‘pseudo environments’ that thwarted the ability of the average citizen to make political judgments based on facts.”

“Citizens don’t have to have an intelligent opinion on every issue confronting the community,” Lippmann added. “Instead, they choose the party they trust to serve their interests.”

Today, those beliefs have been resurrected through disinformation from a U.S. president and tribal loyalty to both parties who are more focused on winning rather than working for the people who elected them.

A similar political atmosphere fostered demagogues like Father Charles Coughlin, Joseph McCarthy, Huey Long, Big Bill Thompson and George Wallace. While McCarthy’s disinformation about “subversives” in the State department eventually led to his censure by the Senate, “a June 1954 Gallup survey [found that] 34 percent of Americans said they had a favorable opinion of McCarthy.”

Democracy survived demagogues before, and it will survive them again. However, it will take the effort and the evidence from leaders to work for the best interests of all Americans rather than the next election.

Democracy isn’t perfect. Sometimes we don’t live up to our standards. Sometimes we do:

The American Revolution, the consent of the governed, the 14th Amendment overturned Dred Scott, Brown v. Board of Education overturned Plessy v. Ferguson, the Civil Rights Act forbade segregation, first in flight, first on the moon, first Mars rover, Americans with Disabilities Act, Voting Rights Act, Amendments to Immigration and Nationality Act, the repeal of the Chinese Exclusion Act, the Organized Crime Act, the resignation of Richard Nixon after Watergate, Nuclear Test Ban Treaty ratification.

These are just some of the successes that demonstrated how America overcame its mistakes and how they turned obstacles into accomplishments.

How do we restore our faith in democracy, today?

Perseverance, courage, respect, and by recognizing that our past successes came when we sacrificed together, worked together, stood up to bullies together, and dedicated ourselves to e pluribus unum, out of many, one.

That’s what we stood for and that’s what we can stand for, again.

I will return Monday after Thanksgiving.


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