2.5. Why We Have to Preserve Our Democracy

If we keep bargaining away our democratic processes to get a little bit more of what we want, soon we aren’t going to have any democracy left.

Maintaining order is hard.

It’s not surprising that the first empires were forged by strongmen who ruled by force. And it’s not surprising that the more you feel our current order is threatened, the more likely you’re going to be receptive to leaders that project toughness.

But we know from history that letting strongmen have all the power is a recipe for disaster.

They abuse that power. They care more about enriching and protecting themselves, than their people. They start lashing out at anyone or anything that might threaten their power. They’ll even kill millions of their own people, if that’s what they feel is necessary.

The Founders in the United States knew this.

They went to great lengths to separate the powers of the government, and provide checks and balances, to ensure that power couldn’t become too concentrated.

And, of course, they provided mechanisms for the American people to decide themselves who should serve in government.

You’d think that, as the population of the United States and the rest of the world has exploded, there’d be more pressure to move away from democracy, more pressure to simplify things by taking away these messy, time-consuming mechanisms for people to have their say.

But instead, the opposite has happened. Democracy has expanded. Democratic rights have expanded.

It’s really a remarkable accomplishment, to have billions of people all over the world participating in their own governance. It’s the best thing about this world that we’ve inherited from our ancestors.

But it’s a very fragile set of circumstances right now.

It’s fragile because the world is big and complicated, and democratic processes are often slow and messy.

It’s fragile because for ridiculous reasons, corporations are treated as “people,” and their millions of dollars are treated as “free speech.” Even though those millions of dollars talk louder than hundreds of millions of ordinary citizens.

And it’s fragile because we’re reaching a point where party loyalty trumps everything—even respect for democratic norms, traditions, and laws.

I know American politics is really messed up. I know this partisan, fifty-fifty gridlock makes it hard to get anything done, and so you may be okay with looking the other way or even cheering your party on when they do these borderline illegal, borderline unethical stuff to get what they want.

But the scholarly data is really, really clear: this is how democracy dies.

Not by big, sudden revolutions—by slow, gradual erosion. By the accumulation of all these little undemocratic maneuvers that chip away at fair elections, a free press, separation of powers, checks and balances, and all the other mechanisms that give power to the people.

If we keep bargaining away our democratic processes to get a little bit more of what we want, soon we aren’t going to have any democracy left.

We’re killing our democracy, for the sake of preserving our two-party system. This artificial, corrupt, divisive two-party system that nobody likes.

Maybe it’s time we killed that two-party system, for the sake of preserving our democracy?


This is the 33rd in a series of over 150 videos about how to create real, lasting social change. Click here for a list of all titles, videos, and transcripts.

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