Monday, October 24, 2011

Getting Along

On a report on BBC, I believe, about the upcoming issues in Libya, they commented that one of the requirements of democracy is figuring out how to disagree. Democracy is, by nature, a playing of different and opposing opinions. Disagreement is part and parcel of the democratic process. It is, in fact, the political way most suited, theoretically, to deal with disagreement.

How do we get along when we disagree?

Libya has no recent history of that. They have no political parties.

Egypt faces the same issues. As does Tunisia. As will Syria.

To Americans, democracy seems like a no-brainer. (More in a moment.) We have been at it for 235 years. We got it from a country, England, that in spite of a monarchy in 1776, did understand representation. We expect other countries to be able to just do what we do. That is tough. Iraq shows us that as we now prepare to pull our troops out.

But that cynic I talked about yesterday, the inner cynic who has been spoiled by nearly 50 years of American politics from the Vietnam Era on, wants to make a snide remark. You know- if we understand democracy so well, why are we having such problems working on agreements in Washington? Why has Congress, the States, the White House, the political parties and the pseudo-parties (Tea party, OWS) made such a black-or-white, either-or, my-way-or-the-highway debacle out of our American system in recent years?

Do we really want these new proto-democracies to emulate us as we are, or as we try to be? The realist within me, though not as cynical as all that, knows that our democracy is as fallible as any other. I know that we regularly get things all messed up. We regularly change our understandings of what "American" democracy and "American" freedoms mean in practice.

Somehow or another we have to be as diligent at home about making sure our democracy works and doesn't fall prey to extreme sides of the issues at hand, whatever they may be. The recent Ken Burns/PBS special on Prohibition was a good example of what can happen when the extreme side of an issue gets the upper hand and ends up bullying the majority to its will. "The Great Experiment" of Prohibition failed because of that. As freedoms were relegated to second-place or lower, when extreme opinions ruled the day and set out to punish and destroy the other side, we lost as a nation.

It can happen in any democratic country. It has happened here. It can happen in Libya or Egypt or here, again. My views on an issue may be a more extreme position than a nation can take. I am, for example, a pacifist. I know, though, that a pacifist position might be dangerous or even foolish for a nation. (I am willing to discuss that politely and offline.)

The role of the more extreme positions, right or left, is to keep the middle honest and aware of the wonders of diversity and to help the nation grow more in honesty, hope and integrity. The most extreme positions, though, remind us of the limits and show us what happens when extreme positions take over. Strong left-wing tactics will be as devastating as strong right-wing tactics since neither will allow any position but there own to exist.

Which brings us back to the leading question- disagreement as an essential of democracy. Getting along when we don't see eye-to-eye. Accepting differing opinions, ideas, world-views as having a place in the public forum. We seem at this point in time, as a nation, to be rattling around the edge of that again. I have hope that as we go through the next year of presidential politicking (that long?) we will find ways to work from our democratic core beliefs and discover ways to work together, without having to demonize the other.

Yes, you may say I'm a dreamer. I pray I'm not the only one.

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