This past year has been a depressingly sad chapter in the history of America. The events that have unfolded since last November’s election were – and are – as disturbing to me as I hope they are to you. Perhaps we expect too much from our elected representatives – or perhaps it is true that a nation gets the government it deserves.
Once envied by free nations across the globe, the United States is finding that it is no longer given or deserving of such admiration. We have allowed our system of party politics to distort and pollute the very word “democracy,” despoiling the institutions that were the pride of our founders. These questions come to mind: When elected politicians demonstrate that they are either incapable or uninterested in honest and equitable governance, what are we to do? Vote them out? And replace them with…what? It’s time to interject a disclaimer here. I will admit to an awareness that the United States has never been a perfectly democratic republic, but does that mean that we shouldn’t expect (or at least hope for) better?
Because of our nation’s historic and growing diversity – not just in ethnicity, but in dogma – there is far less common ground for our elected representatives to “bring us together again” than they would have us believe. Except in times of declared war or national disaster, the American people have almost never really been “together.” There is no public concordance (and thus no continuity in national policy) on issues such as climate change, abortion, equal rights, health coverage or immigration, to name just a few. Still, the façade of representative government has allowed most of us, rightly or not, to believe that hard work and a fair shake would enable the achievement of our dreams, while remaining firmly entrenched as the envy of the world. No wonder so many Europeans look down on American tourists with a combination of disdain and amusement, even when they are accompanied by an adult.
In closing, I submit that most Americans would classify themselves politically as neither “far-right” nor “far-left.” Of that I am relatively certain, and I include myself in that middle majority. But even in the center, there are so-o-o many opinions as to how things should be done. This makes governance in a free society quite a challenge; perhaps the current discord shouldn’t be quite as shocking as it seems. Regardless of our diverse viewpoints, we all should be asking ourselves (and each other), “Is there enough common ground that we can agree upon to re-establish America as the example of freedom and democracy that it used to be?” Can we trust our representatives to find that common ground, or will the old questions remain? “Who puts the American people ahead of their own political ambitions and ahead of the interests of their party leadership? Where are the Statesmen who can vote their conscience without fear of retribution from their own party?” I wish I knew.
*Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Columbia Pictures, 1939