Submitted by Bob Warfield.
A history of human progress may be aligned with one aspect of culture or many. Many come to bear: art and architecture, theater, science and technology. But governance, that circle of affiliation and security beyond family by which survival and association gains idea and expression for practical application, is the root and branch of modern human experience.
From hunter-gatherer beginnings to singular genius at the edge of discovery, an individual in isolation may pursue any task due no approval but his own. But add another and the dynamics of governance emerge to compel communication and, with common purpose, cooperation.
While such observation seems elementary, we’ll do well to remember this is the essential foundation of democracy. And though its origins light our path from Greek antiquity, we should not forget how recently, men of good will and common purpose, extraordinary men indeed, convened through hardship and battle to establish American governance. That governance is entrusted to us on the premise that we will, in the light of human progress, further perfect and extend benefit of its practical application – recognizing that, on June 21, 1788, it was imperfect at birth.
Great strides and setbacks ensuing from the Magna Carta on another date in June, 573 years before, lead to our much argued and amended Constitution. That document of governance, central to cooperative American prosperity, and a growing if halting realization of equality, has held our nation together through a great civil war and two of global devastation in the last century. Generations since of enlarging scientific understanding and technical innovation have vastly altered both American potential and requirement for the adaptation and advancement of cooperative governance. Yet as need of cooperation asserts, its prospects have been diminished under a shadow of corrosive inter-party rivalry. A Republican Party, revealing interests in exclusive power over public purpose, and a willingness to suffer reckless damage to established institutions and practice, seems heedless of wounding American democracy.
Since dawn of the nineteenth century, a cauldron of exponential global population growth has been on a course of accelerating collision with industrial consequence converging on climate impacts, finite resource competition, jurisdictional restrictions, trade and monetary uncertainties, together with inevitable and reasonable demands for equality and access. Associated cultural (religious) prejudices, and the influence of political and economic anxieties in an age of global “Twitter,” variable “facts” and combative intrusion, now challenge governance by democracy. Like vultures at a casual picnic, waiting to see whether America’s bold “experiment” of freedom can withstand, no favor shall be granted by less-principled ways of governance inherently fearing their ability to prevail. American democracy is approaching a cliff as governance by autocracy looks on.
Since SCOTUS ruled that “independent political spending” did not present a substantive threat of corruption, provided it was not coordinated with a candidate’s campaign, all bets are off. Our inability to distinguish “speech from volume” is one of the most damaging “originalist” failures of adaptation required of governance by democracy in post-war American history – as has been shown by foreign and domestic interference in elections since. Indeed, it should have been apparent then, as it is obvious now, that untraceable spending seeds corruption, amplifies unaccountable no-think speech, and invites foreign interference, diminishing serious attention to practical matters that are the necessary purpose of governance in the first place.
Reward for all of this became evident at the US Capitol on January 6, 2021. The viral antipathy remaining now presents a political dilemma for American democracy and stable governance. This is far more serious for “e pluribus unum,” than many Americans believe. The vultures of freedom are hungry for failure, while full of conceits, the obvious offending party to all of this doubles down on a denial of facts, continues to warp reality and stands down from responsible participation in the democracy that American governance requires.
Conversation is the indispensable and vital nature of democracy. Plain governance, from the chipping of flint to the mandate of kings and the marshaling of armies, merely requires the voice of one with the power to decree; no discussion required. But with democracy, governance is shared oxygen, an essential harvest of ideas attempting constructive resolution of issues and opportunity fairly drawn. Conversation between thoughtful people and interested parties assumes informed rational discourse, permissive ability to change minds, welcome new knowledge, and accumulate wisdom by retaining past lessons. A country with a stable democracy honors shared tradition, abides promised endeavor, and ever seeks equality with justice under law. All this requires that subject citizens and their representatives learn, think and listen, not just calculate, obfuscate and attack.
It has been said, too often, that “all politicians are corrupt,” that “no one cares about who you are or your ideas,” that “the way to (political) victory is to destroy the reputation of your opponent.” If a majority of citizens truly believe these tropes and they become operative, democracy cannot succeed. If democracy’s vital conversation becomes saturated with such rhetoric and belief, governance by democracy is in jeopardy. It is an increasing challenge for all of us, all of the time, to discourage dismissive and caustic thinking and voice from democracy’s conversation. We cannot create space in our own heads to listen and respect one another unless we do. This is not some “goody too shoes” notion. Governance decides the fate and fortune of millions of people, and America has, or had, an essential Free World leadership role to play – we still do.
Observing the wit of Garrison Keillor, we all tend to settle into a world of variously framed reality, suspended between hard necessity and wishful thinking. His radio world once brought us weekly to Lake Wobegone, where amusingly, all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all of the children are above average. We tend to create and exist in our own Wobegone worlds, variously shared and private, seeking safety, comfort and personal gratification (some may say meaning), remaining variously informed, certain, doubtful or curious. With age, we risk becoming frozen in those opinions serving self-interest, too often ones thar are in fact shallow or wrong. When narrowing interest and intellect barnacle our bottoms in the assumed comfort of a tideless harbor, a cynical attitude, dismissive outlook or plain laziness may strand further willingness to brave seas of doubt, quest beyond comfort. Wherefore courage?
A lot of good people, men and women of all faiths and none, all outer shades of the same red blood, rich and poor, have gone before us to make a difference. It is on their shoulders we stand, into the light of their illumination we see ahead, and by the grace of their good will that we profit. They have learned, have cared, have listened, and have served our nation, “e pluribus unum,” to enable the free and fair choices we make, that we in turn may leave a better world to those who follow. The courage of one person to stand for this idea is the proposition that a majority of others will. And it is for us, upon that possibility, that everything about the pale blue dot and the ultimate fates of human experience depends.
Carl Edward Sagan (Brooklyn, NY – Ithaca, NY)
Nov 9, 1934 – Dec 20, 1996
Garrison Keillor (Anoka, MN
(Aug 7, 1942 – )