Pundits have bemoaned the state of American democracy, as have academics and citizens disappointed in our political leaders. Doom and gloom are prevalent throughout our sadly disruptive and disparate society.
Despite my innate optimism, I too feel depressed (not clinically) by our instability. Covid was an invasive disease. We lived differently. Now we live dislodged from any sense of compromise and comity.
It seems like an upsetting dream that recurs. Relief is a distant reality. Sleep aids are ineffective. Strong feelings prompt arguments. The normal give-and-take is fraught. Friendships become frayed.
Allow me to offer my concept of democracy, as illustrated by a list of phrases that I believe requires no embellishment and only slight commentary. Were I offering this litany as a test, I would posit that it leaves no room for multiple choice; instead, it is incontrovertible (in my humble opinion).
Compromise–foreign concept these days, sadly so
Selfless public service–rare, too, in favor of media attention
Courage–in short supply as public officials fear the extremes of their parties.
Respect, regardless of party–severely diminished
Ethical behavior–glue that binds a working democracy
Media not the enemy–vital, though pesky, for accountability on every level of government
Public engagement–absolutely mandatory for positive policy
Willingness to admit error–contrary to current political ethos
Reduced dependence on money–far too dominant now
Grace under pressure–victory can be elusive
Constitutional knowledge–critical to governing and public service
Honest communication–essential for public support, without ineffective spin
Competent leadership–owed to constituents on consistent basis
Good people in the mix–unworkable without them
Tolerance–vital element of communal cohesion
Civility—aides and abets productive dialogue, poisonous otherwise
Trust in government—woefully lacking, leading to cynicism
Justice—must be fair or fail to induce confidence
I will stop here. I invite readers to share their thoughts.
Our American democracy is regretfully fragile in the second decade of the 21st century. Finding a middle ground is an endangered process. Politicians feel compelled to cater to the extreme wings of their parties. Little gets accomplished.
Courage to place the country first is secondary to being re-elected. Statesmanship is in short supply. Chaos permeates our federal legislature.
My comments almost seem trite. Read, listen and study politics on the local, state and federal levels, and conclusions are obvious: the common good is sacrificed time and time again to political expediency. Politics of the middle, moderate persuasion represents a thin slice of our political landscape.
Alexander Hamilton, a Founding Father and the first secretary of the treasury, said, “Real liberty is neither found in despotism or the extremes of democracy, but in moderate government.” It is foolhardy to dispute this keen observation.
I remain strangely hopeful. A revival of conscience-heavy leadership is hiding in the trenches, ready to emerge and seek a path of selfless public service. Do I inhabit a dream world? Perhaps.
If my envisioning is naively ridiculous, then what is our future as a thriving democracy? It will be one rooted in darkness. It will be morally bankrupt. We the people will be irrelevant.
With some effort, we can do better. Because we must.
Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. After 44 years in Easton, Howard and his wife, Liz, moved in November 2020 to Annapolis, where they live with Toby, a King Charles Cavalier Spaniel who has no regal bearing, just a mellow, enticing disposition.