Who’s Responsible For This Mess?

Posted on May 9, 2016 in Politics

Democracy is a very bad form of government. But every other form is so much worse…

I first saw those words posted on the bulletin board in my ninth grade history teacher’s classroom. He didn’t include an attribution, so I assumed they were my teacher’s words. I don’t remember us discussing the quote in class. But it stuck with me.

Winston-Churchill-400pxWinston Churchill brought that “bad form of government” sentiment into the public discourse in November, 1947, in a speech he made to the British House of Commons as a Member of Parliament (Churchill’s party was defeated two years after World War II ended). At issue was a bill to change the role of the House of Lords within the British legislative process. Here’s what Churchill actually said, as recorded in the House of Commons’ Orders of the Day:

Many forms of government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except all those others that have been tried from time to time.

An interesting tidbit about that statement is that no one knows the original source, the who behind “it has been said.” Ralph Keys, author of the book The Quote Verifier: Who Said What, Where, and When, gives his verdict: “Credit Churchill as publicist for the words of an unknown aphorist” (an aphorist is an espouser of pithy sayings that contain general truths).

Democracy, by definition, is direct rule by the people. That’s not what we have in the United States, nor in most modern governments. Thomas Jefferson is quoted as saying, “A democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where fifty-one percent of the people may take away the rights of the other forty-nine.”

Our government is a republic—we elect people to represent us and our interests, and those representatives are constrained by the Constitution so that inalienable rights of all citizens cannot be taken away by government.

Of the people, by the people, for the people. That’s how it’s supposed to work.

We all know it doesn’t. We all have our explanations for why.

Churchill said it…this world of sin and woe.

The cultural forces that have led to our current condition are demand-responsive. If we want civility to return, we need to demand it.

The sum of our choices has led to what manifests today.

We the people have gradually ceded power and many of our God-given rights to the political elites in the name of security and prosperity. We’ve delegated our responsibility to be informed citizens who make informed choices to professionals (in the sense that government is their career, not that they’re good at it).

We the people have yielded ourselves to the spirit of the times, embracing a new normal where civility has given way to the brash and rude. Politics has absorbed the reality TV metaphor and cable news, talk radio, and the unlimited Web feed the beast.

Is public civility lost forever?civility-is-not-a-sign-of-weaknessJFK 400px

Doesn’t have to be. The cultural forces that have led to our current condition are demand-responsive. If we want civility to return, we need to demand it. Through our choices of what we say and how we behave, buy, consume. How we vote.

If it does, or if it doesn’t, that’s on us, the people, not the leaders we choose to follow.