The question that was posed to Benjamin Franklin upon the close of the Constitutional Convention is just as relevant today as it was at the beginning. What do we have Mr. Franklin? Whereupon he responded by saying, “A Republic if you can keep it.
Republics with democratic aspects are difficult to maintain. They are dependent on citizens taking responsibility for what it takes to keep a republic. Although they are difficult to keep, a Republican form of government is, I believe, the ideal form of government that we the people of the world should strive for.
When you look at the alternatives such as Monarchies, dictatorships and oligarchies, a republic offers the people the best chance to have their concerns heard and dealt with.
America, today, is encountering the greatest challenges to its form of government since the American Civil War.
In America’s system of checks and balances, the Judiciary has contributed mightily to the new reality of our having an unofficial oligarchy. Buckley and Citizens United have made money and the influence of money paramount. As a result of equating money with speech and humanizing corporations, the wealthiest among us have an even easier time making their collective heard. The billionaires and large corporations are the new elites, our new aristocracy.
What can we do about our new reality? Can Democracy and a Republican survive in America and in the rest of the world? What are going to be the greatest challenges to the survival of Democracy and the Republican form of government?
Republics must manage the advantages and disadvantages of technology, and capitalism. Democracy must also deal with the destructive forces of the pressures that race create and the danger that religion and theocracies present to the very survival of civility and the existence of Democracy and Republics.
Technology offers the citizen the opportunity to air different opinions unfiltered by the state or America’s case the heavy influence of corporate owned media. Facebook and twitter give the public instant communication. There are web sites that can verify the truthfulness of claims made by politicians.
One of the criticisms is that technology gives a person a less in-depth analysis of an issue than what may be needed to deal with a topic in an adequate manner. But the internet is getting better, it offers Wikipedia and different blogs. Google is an amazing source of information and if you take the time you can even research what candidates for public office have said. With the information revolution, people all over the world know virtually instantly, daily occurrences. A state-run media has less of a chance to monopolize the news and limit speech and information. These facts can only help to inform the electorate. It is important to keep the internet free from the control of anyone so that we the people have at least one source of unfiltered information. The influence of technology was really highlighted in the Arab Spring and in what is going on in China. It has become much harder to keep secrets and that can only be a positive for all of us need to see more transparency in government.
A negative regarding having an informed electorate is that in recent years, America’s educational system is offering fewer classes in civics. It is probably a fact that for many new citizens know our own Constitution better because they have to pass a basic test in American government.
In what should be a huge warning to those in charge in both, England and America, is the fact that voting percentages are way down. If you take what happens in your government for granted or if you do not understand your rights, it becomes much easier to have your rights taken away from you. If only a minority of the public vote, a virtual tyranny of the minority can take place where those who are inflamed by the passions of their particular issue vote while most sit home. If you don’t vote you shouldn’t complain about the result. Of course, it is only human to get discouraged by any government’s inaction regarding with addressing full on the most important issues of the day. The normal human reaction to inaction is to not vote because you might believe that it will not make a difference if you do or not.
Capitalism is another positive and a negative influence on the ability to keep a Republic. Capitalism has proven over the centuries that is provides people with the opportunity to have innovation which helps to create jobs and prosperity. But with Capitalism comes the very human problems of greed and selfishness. If we have learned anything from the days of laissez-faire, it is that if we allow unfettered greed, we all suffer. Managed Capitalism with rule sets and regulations helped along with the Labor Movement to create the largest and most affluent Middle Class in history.
Now we hear the same requests from the wealthiest among us. If only we had less rules and regulations there would be more prosperity and more jobs. But in this era which has the mantra that government is bad we have seen the greatest accumulation of wealth and the biggest inequity of income in America’s history. We have seen the corrupting influence of money in politics poison the well of public service. Instead of having public servants serve the public we see them serve themselves to a large degree. There are still those who serve the public honorably but they are becoming harder to find. Citizens United has given those with more money more speech, shutting out the voices of the people. After all if a Congressperson has the choice of talking on the telephone to a big contributor or to just one of his constituents, who do you think they will pick up the phone for? There was no trickle down but a flood of money upwards. The income equality we had has been lost and in return we are seeing instability due to the pressures of not having enough money to enjoy the pursuit of happiness, that Thomas Jefferson so eloquently spoke about. We as a people need to deny greater rights to a corporation if we are to get our country back. Follow the money is a good rule of thumb in protecting the basic rights of the people. It is as if we went back in time and allowed the few elitists to think they had the knowledge to know what is best for all. All money in politics accomplishes is the knowledge that money corrupts and corrupts absolutely the more money that is in politics.
Racism and religion are two other threats to Republics and Democracy. When economic hard times hit, it is human for those in fear of their future to blame someone else. This has happened through the history of man, the habit of blaming or scapegoating others for your predicament. The same goes for religion, for if you question life and your hard life it is easy to find succor in the answers that a religion can offer. Both religious fanaticism and hate based upon bigotry destroy the fabric of a nation. We, the United States, are like a quilt of many colors, with people from everywhere in the world. They come to America for many reasons but two reasons stand out, the freedom to practice their religion without the interference of the state and they come here due to political reasons. Sanctuary and asylum are common reasons for new immigrants to come to America. They come for the opportunities that the United States offers for a better life, to a pursuit of happiness.
The United States is still a beacon of freedom. These dark days of extremism will pass. Republics and democracy still offer mankind the best chance for freedom. It is each of our hands to take personal responsibility for our lives and for the future of our country by getting involved.
Let us all keep up the good fight to ensure that our Republic survives. Our spirit needs to be like the bulldog that Winston Churchill was to his people and to the world. His resolve was aptly stated in a speech to Harrow, when he said. ” Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never-in nothing, great or small, large or petty-never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense! We need to promise ourselves to maintain that fighting spirit and never, never give in to those who would divide us for the cross of money and selfishness over the common sense of equality of opportunity for all.