Why Democracy?

Originally published 11/12/2016. Lead image from Aaron Kittredge via Pexels.com.

Why We Should Be Thankful for Democracy

A bad president, elected by the majority of voting citizens, and political gridlock.

These two phrases are enough for some to doubt the ideology that everyone should be allowed to vote or that a leader should be chosen by the people. But don’t start questioning everything you’ve been taught just yet. We’re going to assume that you’ve lost your faith in the Enlightenment thinkers’ “will of the people” and point out a too-often ignored purpose that democracy serves.

In order to understand the practical purpose of democracy, we have to look at the alternative. Let’s say your old king is very sick and about to be succeeded by his niece, who no one knew existed until now. You didn’t like your old king very much, but will you like your new queen?

You have no idea.

There are three possible outcomes. It’s possible that the queen will be just like her uncle, and things will continue as they have for a long time. But the other two possibilities are extremes:

1. She is a great ruler. With unchecked power, she accomplishes many amazing deeds. She pours all the nation’s funding into science, marries her son off to a foreign princess to unite the two empires in prosperity, and her wise words give courage to the country’s law enforcement and strike fear into the hearts of evildoers.

2. She is a tyrant. With unchecked power, she accomplishes many horrible deeds. She taxes the poor relentlessly, she embezzles all the nation’s funding, she cuts ties with the nation’s allies, cutting your family off from many of the luxury goods that you’ve enjoyed until now, and she lets the country’s laws crumble into chaos.

Democracy is the path of moderation. The more that power is distributed between different regions and factions, the fewer laws and progress in any particular direction the country will make. In a democracy, you can’t get a noble leader who single-handedly ends world hunger, but you also can’t get a murderous maniac.

In the recent presidential election, either side could have won. No matter who won, roughly half the country’s population would be left dissatisfied. As it stands, the Republican party holds the most power that it has had in decades…. that power is “slightly more than half.” Slightly more than half the supreme court judges, slightly more than half of the senate, slightly more than half of the house, plus the president.

That is the most powerful the Republican party has been in a long, long time. And it’s likely the most powerful any political party will be at any given time.

Compared to emperors and queens, that is nothing. In the two years before the next congressional election, the Republican party honestly can’t do too much. Certainly, they can change the lives of everyone in the nation forever, but they can’t end world hunger and they can’t plunge the nation into chaos.

The greatest presidents of our past accomplished what they did simply because they had little opposition–all opposition to Lincoln’s party left the country, leaving Lincoln only the unified support to drastically change the nation forever. All of Congress, despite political party, readily followed FDR into World War II, allowing for great movements. For any given great or famous president, there was some kind of economic or political crisis that made the moderating force of democracy slightly weaker.

Democracy is unsatisfying because it revolves around moderation and compromise. Any citizen who feels passionately about an issue will be woefully disappointed because the government is only capable of taking baby steps towards any particular goal. You may be dissatisfied reading this article as you realize that your candidate, win or lose, is very unlikely to put an end to your complaints or satisfy your desires. The country can only make very small movements towards conservatism or liberalism at any given time.

But don’t be disheartened. Our country has always been this way, yet look at the progress we’ve made since its founding. That progress rarely comes from politicians sweeping away the competition. That progress comes from things like the Civil Rights movement, or the introduction of the Internet, or a collective desire to save the environment. The politicians will only make big progress when the vast majority of the country agrees on something. Granted, this is rare. But that’s how democracy works. A slightly majority cannot make big leaps; it takes a much larger consensus to accomplish anything.

What should you take away from this article, apart from a new understanding of our political system? Motivation. Both sides–Democrat and Republican–lost in this election. The election pulled the country in two, rendering it impossible for either side, if elected into office, to really do anything at all. The only way that both sides can win is if they agree, because only together can they accomplish their goals. So let this be motivation not to sulk about the policies that will or won’t be enacted in the following years, but rather motivation to go out into the world and convince the other side. Persuade people that your cause is worth following. Because, in truth, there is no other way to win.


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