Monday, November 21, 2016

Republic or Democracy?

Is the United States a Republic or a Democracy?

This non-issue is sometimes raised by those on the right--it was a favorite claim of the John Birch Society that America is "a republic, not a democracy," meaning the people should not rule. The same dichotomy is sometimes claimed on the Left, but as a complaint that the United States is not actually a direct democracy, or that at its founding the franchise was not universal. You will be hearing the claim coming from the Right in the days ahead -- be ready for it. Democracy and Republicanism are not contraries or mutually exclusive -- the United States is a republic (there is no monarch) and a representative democracy (despite the worries of the founders about the hazards of Democracy). Yes, the democracy is imperfect--how could it not be?--and it could be improved. But it's not one or the other, it's both.

see also

 See also Abraham Lincoln, The Lyceum Address (1838)

Tocqueville, Democracy in America

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Thank You, Secretary Clinton

It's hard to sort out Hillary Clinton the person, Hillary Clinton the evolving political actor (Senate, Secretary of State, presidential nominee) from the lies and smears, mostly baseless, directed against her for decades now. As a politician she has--perhaps often rightly, sometimes mistakenly--taken positions on issues, and sometimes changed positions. When looked at with any degree of seriousness, the scandals seem to evaporate into smears and lies and distortions--hypocrisies flung by other politicians. I'll admit that as the presidential election began to come into focus a couple of years ago, I hoped that someone other than Hillary Clinton might step forward, but not because I had any real belief in the smears against her--to which I have paid close attention since about 1990. But my hope for "someone else" was not really about doubts I had towards her so much as a sense of all that ugly bad memory. If nothing else, what other people believed about her would be a millstone--and it was. But when she emerged as a candidate, and then as the nominee, I found her direct, smart, profoundly serious and well informed. I supported her with confidence and hope--even recognizing what seemed to me some limits. She wasn't FDR, but she wasn't George W. Bush, either. I'm sorry she lost and I don't blame her for it.

It is hard for me not to think that we are seeing a resurgence here, and a victory, at least for the time being, of an old fashioned American brutalism, nativism, racism, misogyny, and homophobia, along with 20th-21st century authoritarianism. Those elements of our national experience have always been present and now they are taking new forms and new strength with this election. We have sometimes, in our history, managed to overcome -- but never to eliminate -- these parts of our history and character. It is easy for us at colleges and universities, perhaps, or in our comfortable cities and suburbs, to imagine that those forces were gone or shrinking to a manageable level. We were wrong. The work is not finished. We can only make a difference together.

Okay, mourn. Then what? Most of my friends are teachers and parents, and we all have elderly relatives and children who are relatives. They need your wisdom, your patience, and your love now. And then, organize. And teach. 

Progressives will have differences as we pick up the pieces, but though we do now need tough self appraisal we do not need factional infighting -- a historically likely development at a moment like this.