A Republic Without Bananas
The one feature of this society that makes it an actual light on a hill is sustainability as a republic
As a republic, the U.S. has enjoyed a stable political existence for well over two centuries. A republic consists of voters electing legislative representatives and a president to govern them. There is no direct democracy (with the exception of referendums and propositions at the state level). The integrity of a democratic republic is dependent on all stakeholders agreeing to the rules of law regarding all aspects of elections and governance. Because the stability of a democracy exists only as the result of respecting the rules of law, any inference regarding a lack of respect for this is reasonably viewed as contrary to the greater good.
This is not how things work in a “banana” republic, a euphemistic term for a country with a kleptocratic government (in which officials extend their political power in violation of rules of law). These republics often have a less-developed economy and sometimes are the puppet state of a more powerful nation. Individuals or groups can essentially undermine or overthrow an elected government because the population is unable or unwilling to stop this from happening, there are insufficient military resources available to prevent it and agreement on the rules of law is not universal. Those seizing power will typically place political opposition in jail or threaten to do so. Instability is inherent to such circumstances.
Why do I bring this up? Because when there is increased political polarization and extremists feel emboldened to assert justification for taking the law into their own hands, it undermines the essential stability of a democracy and threatens to replace it with authoritarian governance. Sound familiar? You might recognize the rhetoric of both the most extreme members of the Tea Party and also the current Republican presidential candidate (who seems to favor authoritarian-style leadership). Experts have noted that a threat to democracy by those too angry to control what they say and write challenges the confidence of citizens that all will abide by the rules of law.
This is not a far-fetched concern given the ugly, brazen language and threats by this candidate and his supporters regarding his opponent and the election process, plus constant us-versus-them rhetoric. Realistically, no overthrow is possible — the U.S. is not a banana republic, it has a large majority of rule-of-law citizens and a military quite capable of stopping any attempt at insurrection. But…confidence in the electoral system and its results could be compromised by assertions that the results are not accepted by some. This is why candidate temperament and undisciplined voter anger are critical concerns in a democracy.
Blame for questions regarding election integrity also rests with the Republican party, which has fabricated a nonexistent issue concerning voter fraud (to limit franchise access for voters deemed unlikely to support conservatives) and has enacted laws in some states attempting to restrict and deny voting rights. Then there’s the incessant accusations of a rigged election by the pathologically unstable, angry Republican candidate noted above. Although any normal, intelligent voter would dismiss rigged elections as an unlikely scenario, there are millions of supporters of this candidate for whom his loss would be proof that the democratic process is not working…for them.
There are two other societal aspects that have helped this republic endure — civility and respect, although much too often the latter has been denied to female citizens. Political philosophies and perspectives can differ and yet coexist peacefully because we expect compromise and cooperation for the greater good. These have been less obvious in the last few decades to varying degrees, and many voters are unhappy with the resulting dysfunctional governace. Correcting this can’t happen if civil discourse and mutual respect are not in play. The dystopian either/or assertions from those farthest outside the mainstream are ominous reminders of this reality.
Those who are most convinced their country is being lost to them because of cultural and societal change continually miss the obvious: working within the system is always far more effective than trying to bring down the system (now referred to by dissidents as the establishment). In the 1960s the call to “tune in and drop out” was misguided idealism doomed to failure for the same reason that asserting the system is rigged will be. The system — a republic loyal to the rules of law — remains the singular functional basis upon which to exist as a society that has the greatest chance of achieving a greater good despite the intrinsic complexities and dissonance of human nature.
I am skeptical about American exceptionalism, which is more myth than truth, but the one feature of this society that makes it an actual light on a hill is sustainability as a republic. Does this mean we’ve cracked the code for a more perfect union? Not even close…but despite human nature’s self-destructive tendencies, we are slowly finding more inclusive tolerance that will serve us well in this century and the ones that follow. Our greatest challenge is integrating the individual and the greater good regardless of gender or heritage. Pragmatically, perfection isn’t going to happen, but thoughtful diversity is certainly attainable, and can only strengthen the basis of our republic.