Saturday, April 30, 2016

Getting Back to First Principles

I don’t care for the comparisons between some of our current Presidential candidates and Hitler and Mussolini, but at least I understand such comparisons.  I also appreciate why these candidates are especially scary to certain components of our population, and can’t say that these fears are poorly founded.  To a degree, I share those fears.  Finally, I wholeheartedly agree with those who say that the candidates at issue are willing to take a nation that once fought a vicious Civil War over the principle of national unity and divide us into a land of insiders versus outsiders, “patriots” versus “aliens,” and “us” versus “them.”  These divisions remind me of the America that existed before the Civil War.  That’s why we had to fight such a devastating war – to become the UNITED States of America, rather than a place that paid lip service to liberty while denying many of us our dignity, let alone our freedom.   

So when it comes to hoping that none of the candidates at issue are elected President in November, count me in. But I’ll tell you this – just because I oppose the Demagogic Dividers, doesn't make me willing to support efforts to thwart the public’s will when it comes to elections.  I decry the acts of protesters who, in the name of progressive values, wish to muzzle or intimidate politicians who they disagree with.  I similarly decry the acts of politicians who, in the name of pragmatic or moderate values, support collusion or other forms of gamesmanship to prevent the majority candidate or even the plurality candidate from winning elections.   I also decry the existence of superdelegates, unpledged delegates, and other devices used to provide more power to political insiders than to other Americans.   I still believe, in other words, in the principle that when it comes to elections, the candidate with the most votes should win.  Period.

Why do I feel so strongly about the latter principle even at a time when Demagogic Dividers abound?   In part, it’s because I haven’t completely lost my confidence in the sanity of the American public.  But it’s also because the idea of democracy is such an enormous part of what I believe makes America great.  Remember, when this country began, there were no other democracies in the world, at least not if you’re talking about places that were more than just city-states.  America in practice was hardly a perfect democracy, and that continued even after the Civil War. But at least in theory, America stood for the idea that millions upon millions of people could live democratically and freely, and that the collective wisdom of the masses exceeded that of any set of oligarchs.  Yes, our Constitution makes room for legislators who represent us by voting their conscience, rather than simply seeking a plebiscite on all issues, yet when it comes to selecting these legislators or the Chief Executive who bargains with them, that privilege has been left to the people to decide.  Our Founding Fathers made that idea paramount when they gave birth to a nation that became a role model for the modern world.  

I could go on to make my point, but I’d rather see it made by a better writer.  I’d rather see it made in the form of a short statement that is probably my favorite piece of writing in American history.   It needs no introduction.  It needs only our periodic attention and respect.  

“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

“Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

“But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

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