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So. Y’all know that I feel strongly about democracy, right? As we enter the last week of a presidential campaign cycle, the powerfulest scene and show of the Western World, the swordless (I hope) conflict, or good or ill humanity, I think it’s good to take a few minutes, as many of us as can, and think about democracy. Not the candidates—the choosing, not the chosen. I’d like to challenge you, Gentle Readers all, to take a few minutes to think about democracy itself. What moves you about it? What problems do you have with it? How strongly do you feel about it? Why? What do you think democracy is anyway?

To me (and I know I have said this before) democracy is an attempt to create a self-governing and democratic populace. A populace capable of governing itself with the participation of all. Individuals, all, doing their part as they judge, shouldering responsibility not just for themselves and their families but for the whole nation. A populace that respects everyone’s part in it, equal in law as we are in housing the Divine spark of humanity, different each to each and everything connected to everything. Ever changing, ever succeeding, ever coming short, ever aspiring to more. Democracy is in some way fundamentally about the shortcomings of itself, because democracy is about continually remaking itself and making itself new, creating in every generation a new and more democratic people. It isn’t about good government, or honesty and integrity, or sensible policies. It isn’t about universal healthcare or a minimum wage or GDP growth or maintaining the bridges and tunnels—unless we want it to be. Unless we choose to govern ourselves that way. That’s the beauty of it. That’s why I love it so desperately and why I am moved, sometimes to tears, by the simple act of casting a ballot, the least and easiest of the forms of democratic participation.

The problem with democracy (and again I am aware I have said this before) is how to keep participating when you lose. Democracy is tough when you are in the minority, whether it’s on policy or culture or what. At some point, everyone winds up looking at the country and saying to themselves People are dying because my candidate lost. Or if not dying (and it so often is dying) then suffering injustice, bodily harm, violations of various kinds. Elections have serious consequences, and we all, each of us as individuals, have to figure out how to live with those consequences and keep participating. It will be a stark problem next week when fifty million people will have voted for the losing candidate; it has been a stark problem before and will be again. It’s a problem that is without an answer, too—the problem is fundamental in self-government, so long as people continue to be different one to another (and may that never change). The only response to it that I can see is to love democracy more. To cling to it, as ever-failing and insufficient as it is, and to commit to more (ever more) active participation in it. To simultaneously raise our aspirations and lower our expectations. To shoulder responsibility for governing ourselves, and to shoulder responsibility for failing to govern ourselves, and to should responsibility for governing ourselves again.

This will be a trying few days, and may be very, very trying for some time after that. It is my hope that I find some comfort, during those trying days, in my passion for democracy itself. Maybe you can find similar comfort in your answers: what do you think democracy is all about?

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,


A clarification, the next morning:

I was moved to write this because it feels to me as if we as a nation and a culture may be falling out of love with democracy. The great danger to democracy is that people will stop loving it, and then will happily choose to be ruled by others (so long as we are ruled well). We may very well fall in love with something completely different and call it democracy, too. I don't just mean Donald Trump's obvious personal contempt for the Constitution and for the participation in government of those who disagree with him, and in truth I don't just mean his Party. I may be overstating it—I certainly hope I am—but it feels to me as if we are culturally disenamored of the dirty and failure-ridden and beautiful business of self-government, to an extent I haven't felt before in my lifetime. Over the life of the country, that love has surely ebbed and flowed, so I don't mean to say that It's All Over, just that it felt important to me, at this moment, to reaffirm.


I love democracy because I love community. Democracy increases our responsibility for our community and increases our sense of ownership of our community. And democracy does that in a collective way, because we all come together to vote and our votes only matter when counted together. Democracy stands in opposition to stagnation and apathy because it rewards participation. Democracy mandates a messy intertwining with people who are Other, because They vote along with Us, and therefore offers our best hope for gradually transforming Other into other into Us. For I firmly believe in the coming of democracy, and though it may tarry, yea, I still believe.

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