Anatomy Of A Democracy

It may not be immediately apparent to young people or countries new to democracy, but running a democracy is a bitch!

We have many choices and many decisions to reach. You could have a monarchy; those were all in vogue in the 18th and 19th centuries and even before that. A monarchy, not what Britain has with a Queen who has to sit back and watch the likes of Boris Johnson turn England into a Monte Python skit, but an absolute monarch like Saudi Arabia has. The Saudis have a King, the supreme leader, and the Council of Ministers, probably family members who will rubber-stamp whatever the King wants. To do otherwise can lead to forfeiting about ten inches off your height.

You have dictatorships, such as Putin in Russia and President Xi Jinping of China; However, Xi, while quite powerful, must have a few restless nights; China has a long history of deposing errant dictators. Putin, in Russia, should probably sleep with one eye open as well.

A few others of note might be; President Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai of Afghanistan President Abdelmadjid Tebboune of Algeria President João Lourenço of Angola President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus Sultan Haji Waddaulah of Brunei.

 I won't waste my time or yours going on about flash-in-the-pan blowup governments like anarchies, oligarchies, and the rest; while interesting, we're talking about trying to make democracy work.

So, what is the deal with democracy? First, we don't have a democracy, at least not a pure one; nobody has to my knowledge - they are unworkable. As in our case, you cannot allow 330 million people to vote on every issue that comes up in the course of governing; it would be constant elections and chaos. The ancient Greeks tried it and failed. We have about 600 elected representatives from primarily two political parties in the U.S., and they can't get a damn thing done for arguing.

Around 509 B.C., the Romans tried a representative form of government following centuries of rule by Etruscan kings. The Roman Republic lasted about 500 years and collapsed under greed, favoritism, and an effort to let the people decide about a land distribution plan without consulting the rich who had been illegally occupying that land for over a century. Out came the clubs, and Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus was summarily dispatched.

What we have in the U.S. is a democratic republic. A government that elected officials run is called a republic. The United States has both republican and democratic characteristics throughout its multiple levels of government. That's all I'll say on the definition of our approach to governing; you can read much more about our approach to governing online.

As I stated in the beginning, democracies are a bitch. They are unwieldy, slow, and infuriating. There are always winners and losers on any issue, but it has to be a majority rule. Some Eastern European nations that had never - never in their history - been a democracy were suddenly cut free to drift in the stormy democratic seas after the collapse of the Soviet Union; there were fifteen in all.

Two years before the collapse of the Soviet Union Poland broke away and gained its independence in 1989 and moved to a democratic government. Lech Walesa was Poland's first popularly elected president. Wałęsa helped guide Poland through its first free parliamentary elections (1991) and watched as successive ministries converted Poland's state-run economy into a free-market system. Poland found that making democracy work is a full-time job as did other nations freed from the yoke of tyranny. Someone once said, I thought it was Walesa, but I haven't been able to verify that; it went something like this, "Freedom is more than buying a pound of sausage." I took that to mean that with the collapse of communism, where products were scarce, people had access to more goods, but the speaker's point was that you have to work to keep your democracy; a thriving democracy is about more than just abundant foods. You have to participate and vote;

Back to my story. One has to admire the founding fathers, a term I find to be humorous. They might more appropriately be called the "founding children," their ages being; Marquis de Lafayette, 18; James Monroe, 18; Gilbert Stuart, 20; Aaron Burr, 20; Alexander Hamilton, 21; Betsy Ross, 24; and James Madison, 25. There were a few "old-timers"; Thomas Jefferson, 33; John Adams, 40; and Paul Revere, 41. George Washington was 44, and Samuel Adams was 53. Today, none of the young men in the first group could run for president until they were 35 years old. Oh, and let's not forget Ben Franklin, a senior citizen at 70 years of age on July 4, 1776.

As I stated, for this collection of people with an average age of 29 years and nine months old to have developed the outline for a government and nation as successful as we have been, is impressive. Before we all start dancing in the streets and beating our chests, we need to understand that bringing this small group to a consensus, as well as all of the thirteen original states, was like brokering peace between the Hatfields and the McCoys.

In the early 1770s, more and more colonists became convinced that the English Parliament intended to take away their freedom. The Americans saw a pattern of increasing oppression and corruption happening worldwide. When armed conflict between bands of American colonists and British soldiers began in April 1775, we were ostensibly fighting only for our rights as subjects of the British crown. By the following summer, the Revolutionary War was in full swing.

Even after the initial battles of the Revolutionary War broke out, few colonists desired complete independence from Great Britain, and those who did-like John Adams- were considered radical. Within about a year, as Britain attempted to crush the rebels with all the force of its great army, King George III popped off. His words reached the colonies pissing everyone off, and effectively consolidated our troops in pursuit of independence.

Soon after we won independence from Great Britain in 1783, it became increasingly evident that our young republic needed a stronger central government to remain stable. In 1786, Alexander Hamilton, a lawyer and politician from New York called for a constitutional convention to discuss the matter. The Confederation Congress, which in February 1787 endorsed the idea, invited all 13 states to send delegates to a meeting in Philadelphia.

On May 25, 1787, the Constitutional Convention opened in Philadelphia at the Pennsylvania State House, now known as Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence had been adopted 11 years earlier. The 55 delegates (who became known as the "framers" of the Constitution) were a well-educated group that included merchants, farmers, bankers, and lawyers, all men, of course, and all white. The convention sessions were held in secret to avoid outside pressures.

Virginia's James Madison kept a detailed account of what transpired behind closed doors. Congress had tasked them with amending the Articles of Confederation; however, they soon began deliberating proposals for an entirely new form of government. After intensive debate, which continued throughout the summer of 1787 and threatened to derail the proceedings, they developed a plan establishing three branches of the national government; executive, legislative and judicial.

Among the more contentious issues was the question of state representation in the national legislature. Delegates from larger states wanted the population to determine how many representatives a state could send to Congress, while small states called for equal representation. The Connecticut Compromise resolved the issue, which produced proportional representation of the states in the lower house (House of Representatives) and equal representation in the upper house (Senate).

Slavery was another contentious issue to be dealt with. Although some northern states had already started to outlaw the practice, they went along with the southern states' insistence that slavery was an issue for individual states to decide and should be kept out of the Constitution. Many northern delegates believed that the South wouldn't join the Union without agreeing to this. For taxation and determining how many representatives a state could send to Congress, it was decided that enslaved people would be counted as three-fifths of a person. And that Congress wouldn't be allowed to prohibit the slave trade before 1808, and states were required to return fugitive enslaved people to their owners.

 By September 1787, the convention's five-member Committee of Style (Hamilton, Madison, William Samuel Johnson of Connecticut, Governor Morris of New York, and Rufus King of Massachusetts) had drafted the final text of the Constitution. Of the 55 delegates, 39 signed, and three refused to approve the document. For the Constitution to become law, it had to be ratified by nine of the 13 states. Madison and Hamilton, with assistance from John Jay, wrote a series of essays to persuade people to ratify the Constitution. The 85 pieces, known collectively as "The Federalist" (or "The Federalist Papers"), detailed how the new government would work.

Beginning on December 7, 1787, five states, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, and Connecticut-ratified the Constitution in quick succession. Other states, especially Massachusetts, opposed the document, as it failed to reserve un-delegated powers to the states and lacked constitutional protection of fundamental political rights, such as freedom of speech, religion, and the press.

In February 1788, a compromise was reached whereby Massachusetts and other states would agree to ratify the document with the assurance that amendments would be immediately proposed. The Constitution was narrowly ratified in Massachusetts, followed by Maryland and South Carolina. On June 21, 1788, New Hampshire became the ninth state to ratify the document. It took a whole year to get all nine states to agree on the Constitution, only with a caveat for amendments. The following year, Madison introduced 19 amendments, 12 were adopted, and the states ratified ten in December of 1791; the Bill of Rights became part of our Constitution.

I have tried to summarize several decades of upheaval, fighting, and finally, an agreement that yielded our country and Constitution. Why did I do this? To make the point that forming and eventually running a nation is analogous to having and being a part of a family. Families fight and bicker and maybe even engage in a bit of backstabbing. Still, the most successful families work together, albeit noisily, to make the family more robust and better. Some family members win, and some may lose, but they remain a family.

Most of you know what I'm referring to. Families are made up of diverse personalities, likes and dislikes, and, yes, politics. In most families, when the children are young, the parent provides the leadership and guidance that they hope will lead the family to success and happiness in all their dealings. The beginning of our nation was a bit like a new family. As the children grow and are exposed to new ideas and philosophies outside the home and through their friends at school, they might question some of what the parents proclaimed to be the best approach.

Discussion around the dinner table can become boisterous if not downright family war stuff. If you have three children, even though they share the same DNA, parents, upbringing, etc., they can often appear to be someone else's child. While genetics and DNA play an essential role in a child's development, it does not mean they will be a cookie-cutter copy of their parents or siblings. With effort, compromise, and understanding, the family can still differ and love each other. Thanksgiving dinner can still be a treat as opposed to a food fight.

Our nation is now about 250 years old. We are not in our infancy. We often take certain things for granted, like liberties and freedoms. We begin to find fault with our elders and question past decisions. But, we must remember that we are a family above all else. We all have a responsibility to seek a middle ground on issues that divide us, a middle ground that will always allow us to sit together around the table at Thanksgiving, be grateful for what we have, and look forward to the future.

Aesop is credited with the line, "United we stand, divided we fall." In his fable, The Four Oxen and the Lion, he wrote: "A lion used to prowl about a field in which four oxen used to dwell. Many a time, he tried to attack them, but whenever he came near, they turned their tails to one another so that whichever way he approached them, he was met by the horns of one of them. At last, however, they fell to quarreling, and each went off to pasture alone in the separate corner of the field. Then the Lion attacked them one by one and soon made an end of all four. Like those oxen, united we stand, divided we fall."