Op-Ed | How to protect our country’s democracy

FILE PHOTO: Dome of the U.S. Capitol Building
FILE PHOTO: The dome of the U.S. Capitol Building is seen as the sun sets on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., July 26, 2019.
REUTERS/Erin Scott/File Photo

As any student of history understands, our institutional structures are constantly changing in response to competing influences of different special interests. We cannot take our American form of democracy for granted.  

We have experienced a sea change in the way we work, live, communicate in recent years. The pandemic further fostered the development of social media and virtual everything which is changing the mindset of the populace. Have we become more distant from each other and arguably desensitized to each other’s needs? Regardless,  what we have seen is a fracturing of the ties that bind us as a united American people. 

Although the American democratic capitalist system combines economic freedom and strong social policies, capitalism and democracy are not inexorably connected. Just ask any extremist right-wing proponent of the current propaganda if the more liberal elements of American society are leading us to become a socialist state. Democracy is not inextricably linked to capitalism although neither are, we on a fast track to becoming a “Red” state in the traditional Bolshevik sense. However, true to Bob Dylan’s prescient  protest song, “TheTimes They Are a Changin.” 

So, what is it that we need to protect and why? 

Simply put, we primarily need to protect the Constitution in order to preserve our individual liberties and the rule of law as well as maintain the separation of powers among the three branches of government. It is primarily the values underlying constitutional law and the inalienable rights of individuals that must be protected in order to preserve a type of democracy that corresponds to the ideological foundations of the  Constitution. Not all democracies are equal! 

A democracy representing the will of the people is only as good as how it aligns with our sacred principles as outlined in our Constitution.  

We have seen the last administration run roughshod over many of these principles,  including respect for human rights and the rule of law. 

While changes in values inevitably result from changes in institutional structures, the  Constitution is what restricts any modifications in our democratic system that might create a conflict with these fundamental values. 

How do we protect the Constitution? 

Recent trends in society have resulted in disproportionate distribution of wealth and a  shrinking of the middle-class creating conflict. We need to counter these trends. The growth in Trumpism was no accident. The middle class needs to be reincorporated into the structure of society. We need policies that will encourage civic responsibility and interpersonal connection. We are becoming a world dominated by isolated, pessimistic, and unhappy people who are suffering from what Durkheim called anome, or an uprooting of values, as well as alienation. An article by Tamara Lush in APNEWS.com  from June 6, 2020 suggests that Americans are the unhappiest they’ve been in 50  years. 

If the goal is to perpetuate a Democracy based on the American Constitution, we need to encourage bipartisan solutions to issues and challenges in this country. Primarily we need a policy of inclusion which emphasizes the growth and sustenance of our middle class, while addressing the needs of the most vulnerable. If we cannot meet that challenge then we can say goodbye to peace in this country as well as to our beautiful,  albeit imperfect, democratic capitalistic system able to balance economic freedom with social justice. We can and we must find a way to overcome the fears of people and inspire new hope in new opportunity. There is no guarantee what will follow if disaffection becomes more widespread. We have a choice if we unite.  

Ilene L. Nathanson is a member of Seniors Taking Action, a group of activists who believe that political engagement is essential if democracy is to flourish. For more information: seniorstakingaction21@gmail.com