Throughout history, democracies have been touted as the form of government that’s not only the most efficient, but also the most satisfying. By allowing a high amount of input across the spectrum, democracy succeeds because it empowers a large amount of stakeholders. Also, in light of recent events on the world stage, it’s clear that democracies can help create a global sense of understanding. Unfortunately though, even the strongest of democracies can have periods in their history that test its resilience.
Ever since the Fairness Doctrine for media was lifted, Americans have been exposed to a high level of political bias. As a result, a narrow view of political news is often reported now. In the past, the Fairness Doctrine required both sides of a political topic be reported. Nowadays – unless one reads multiple news sources, we tend to miss out on the true variety of modern political thought. This is because media centers often cater to one political view.
For years, political theorists have advocated that a range of different ideas be presented to preserve democracy. For example, a candidate’s debate allows divergent views to give voters a true choice. Respect for debate of all types has been the lifeblood of a free, efficient, and civil society. By exploring a variety of opinions, democracies have been able to find practical and holistic solutions to complex issues.
Unfortunately, we now live in an era where political purity is valued. Echo chambers – where mostly like-minded views are held, are becoming more common in both traditional and social media. And instead of honest and earnest debate being used to judge political policy – political power brokers often rely on smear campaigns to overwhelm opposition.
Interestingly, mainstream Democrats and Republicans do share similar ideas on some policy issues. Historically, the reason for this is that the American respect for spirited and honest political debate has sometimes led to practical compromise. This ability to find hybrid solutions – and blend opposite ideas together, is one of the reasons the democracy revolution of the past 230 years has been successful.
For the last 50 years, political debate in the United States has often revolved around finding a balance between capitalism and socialism. Likewise, debate regarding cultural issues often deals with finding a balance between respect for tradition, versus cultural change. Ironically, mainstream Democrats and Republicans have sometimes done a good job of balancing out these opposite ideas. This is shown by the fact that America today has aspects of the Social Democracy style of government that’s a norm for advanced democracies. Social Democracy relies on a regulated free-market to provide a large portion of goods and services, in conjunction with government services for a social safety net.
Hopefully…the United States can reinvigorate the notion that the political process is mostly a tool that exists to find the best solutions for our country. Although party politics and ideology are extremely important, the winner-takes-all mindset that’s recently evolved can have negative consequences. At the end of the day, most people make practical decisions – based on their own perceptions, on who to vote for. This doesn’t mean that there is no room for deal-making with political opponents. What it means is that America’s democratic-republic form of government actually relies upon political compromise to run well. After all, the strength and beauty of democracies lie in how they combine different ideas from across the spectrum for practical solutions.
34 thoughts on “The Strength & Beauty Of Democracy”
Interesting article. I would only add that I encourage free speech in the sense of people learning to think for themselves with responsibility, because if the “best” ideas can be debated, then others might be privy to the thoughtful deliberations.
I agree Dolphinwrite! 🙂
Responsibility is such a key factor to emphasize as we look ahead in trying to re-create the sense of Democracy that used to exist. As you say – the thoughtful deliberations that you talk about in your blog are so important to the Democratic process!
Well said. You are spot on with your observations. Polemic arguments and winner take all mindset limits possibilities instead of expanding them. I would add to that several controversial Supreme Court decisions, corporate personhood and money as speach. A long list of decisions give people with money, greater protection. More money = more speach = more representation = greater protection, if you have money.
Add to this, the reasonable right to privacy v. the need for transparency. Democracies need to be inclusive, transparent, and reviewable. Dark money, shel companies, and anonymous ownership, cloud debate. Security v. Transparency. Closed door meetings, non disclosure agreements and proprietary rights, swirl around the idea of intellectual property and security. At what point does the public have a right to know? Can a man spend the households money and not tell his wife?
All the best my friend TE
Hey Tom…thx for the great talking points!
Yeah, at some point the intensity of polemic arguments create the pre-conditions for the winner take all mindset that is currently running rampant. After all, since so many argumentative variables can house sub-variables, it’d behoove all of us to try to be open-ended somewhat. Although we need ideology + need to fight for causes, we also need reflection on how the process of democracy is as important as the results.
Very important point that you make about how the the influence of money in politics seems to have increased w the controversial court rulings. Warts + all, what has made the United States a country that millions have flocked to is the dream to have the freedom to chart one’s own course in life. One of the reasons people moved here was because personal wealth was not as important as it was in many of the countries they moved from. However…now that the door is open for money to be looked at as speech, it only seems logical that those with more money may be afforded more speech in the political process.
And yes, true points about privacy vs. transparency. I agree with you + still think that before a man spends the household money, they need to consult their spouse! 🙂
Take Care Tom + thx for the dialogue!
Good to see you back Perry.
Thx so much GP + I’m glad to stay in touch with you! In our own ways, we’re both helping to keep the spirit of democracy alive.
Take Care! 🙂
We sure are trying!!
Yes…we sure are GP!
Take Care + keep up the great work with your WW2 blog. 🙂
I haven’t been as media-obsessed as I was for some years prior to the 2020 election. But I do notice a couple things on occasionally returning to an absorption in news media.
For one thing, if I break from a station or site I usually follow, and then I return to that station or site, I immediately notice a bias or slant in their news presentation that had earlier escaped me. It stands to reason that it escaped me because I was unconsciously “falling for” their bias, without consciously realizing it was there. This seems to be a natural function of over-absorption in one news source.
Another thing that happens during media breaks is that the soundness of my policy, which is to read news from all different directions – left, right, in-between or what-have-you. It may not immediately lead me to the absolute, objective truth, but it will alert me to how sophisticated are the many packs of liars on many different Internet venues.
That advanced democracies are following a democratic socialist model akin to that of Bernie Sanders is key. I also feel that in returning to the healthy challenge of sound democratic principles, we need to recognize that we are a republic from the start, to which we cannot pledge allegiance if we only pledge “allegiance” to a divided heart.
Another very thought-provoking post. Thanks, Perry.
You’re welcome A.P. + thx for adding to the dialogue + stopping by. You make great points!
Regarding what you said about the media, you’ve definitely picked up on the way modern journalism works. I commend you for taking breaks + then returning fresh to a particular news venue. That way, you can pick up on the cues used to draw people in on many levels to retain them. And I commend you for doing what I try to do – glean info from many sources along the left to right spectrum. That way, we can be a bit more objective. As you know, not only is there much different coverage of a particular topic with different news sources, there are also different topics that are covered depending on the political slant of the media source.
Modern media often has been accused of treating the news mostly as an editorial. The problem with this is that they seem to start with a premise first, + then add facts. In the past, it seemed that they started more with facts + that the particular angle evolved more naturally. And in addition, modern media often has enhanced opinion sections of editorial type features.
This is a big change from the days when the Fairness Doctrine was in place up till 1987. And interestingly…there’s been even in the past 6 yrs, a ramping up of the intensity + emotionalism of not only the commentary – but the actual news itself. This is why many people sincerely shake their head at the media + say that they wonder what is true.
Although the chances of bringing back the Fairness Doctrine are slim, I’m so glad people like you can pick up on modern media tactics. A.P., in your political commentary for newspapers you work as a calm moderating voice of reason. Hopefully…with more of us speaking up, we can return to the notion that we are indeed a republic with a mended heart.
Take Care A.P.! 🙂
Thank you for your post.
Food for thought: We need real “accountability” in all our democracies. As an example, I like California’s recall procedure… (Which can also probably be abused, but it’s a start…)
You’re welcome Equinoxio + thx for stopping by! Also, your recent post on the situation in the Ukraine was very powerful. I learned much from it.
Since you’re a world traveller + astute observer of the powerful good that democracies can do, I appreciate your insight. I agree that California’s recall process is an example of democracy in action. And yes, although difficult for even the most advanced societies, “accountability” is the key to providing the necessary checks + balances that are necessary for the good life.
Take Care Equinoxio! 🙂
Nice thoughts, Perry. You and I agree on much, as usual. In fact, I find LOTS of people agree with us about the absurdity and perniciousness of the political purity/zero-sum mindset, in which everyone who disagrees with me on one or more issues must be destroyed, but it’s hard to figure out what to do, when media across the board – from corporate newsrooms to Twitter – thrive on the most toxic form of that model. Per the “media centers” you speak of, a corollary to the fall is the active rejection of objectivity as a goal. It is much more common now to see judgmental language at the outset of headline stories, as if the reporter were desperate to other reporters that he/she is on the “right” side of the issue. It’s almost like they are now trained in journalism school to value advocacy over objectivity on the front page. Is there hope? Maybe, maybe not. The Ukraine invasion seems to have given a shock and a hope that we can rise above the petty, zero-sum model, but at a heavy cost and with no certainly that it is shock enough to bring us back to those healthy preconditions of democracy of which you speak.
So nice to hear from you Daedulus + thx for taking the time out of your busy schedule! Best of luck in Madrid – an historic + beautiful city. I’m always impressed with the knowledge of world travellers.
As usual, you make excellent points worth exploring. Yes, there does seem to be a pattern in journalism to now do exactly the opposite to what was done 20, or 30 years ago. Back then, a certain objectivity + impartiality was at least on the radar for much journalism. This allowed for an air of discovery + it allowed for a sense of lively, nuanced + intellectual debate that often benefited many. Add in the changes brought in the past 7 years, + we now have a truly chaotic scene. This is why so many tune out the news as being too heavy to digest.
You are so correct, it seems that subjective + edgy advocacy has replaced the objective mindset that was prevalent for so long. Basically, so much journalism now almost starts out with a provocative + accusatory concept or question. Gotcha questions during interviews prevail. It appears unfortunately that the concepts presented in the 1976 movie “Network” have prevailed. Since I come from a journalism family – my Dad was a reporter + editor in Syracuse in the 50s, 60s, + 70s, I’ve been personally made aware of how the intellectual food that the media feeds us, is often rife with intensity. Unfortunately…the intensity + echo chambers seem to be breeding grounds for intense backlashes. The middle ground can be lost.
As for what can be done – there are limits. Just as we do here, it always starts with individuals speaking up. Ripple effects, like waves on a pond can often move things into a calmer time. As for whether big picture events can somewhat change the tenor of modern society – such as the tragedy in the Ukraine, we can wait + see. As usual, your ideas are thoughtful.
Thx for stopping by Daedulus + best of luck to you! 🙂
Always a pleasure to be part of your dialogue!
Thx Daedulus! I always enjoy dialoguing with you too! Best of luck. 🙂
Thanks Perry; nice hearing from you.
You’re welcome Daniel!
I really like the historical + international aspects of your blog. 🙂
What a great and expansive topic – thanks once again Perry!
What I see is we sure do live in partisan times, polarizing to the extreme, shouting at each other without listening, reinforced by our own echo chambers of group encouragement.
But I am less concerned about this divide, even though it is worrisome and must be bridged to have some semblance of a working democracy, than I am about the shrinking of debate itself. What position one dares express in public seems to be more a matter of courage than conviction these days. A relentless barrage of propaganda “RightThinking” compels conformity with a particular worldview, and to deviate from the preferred narrative is to transform oneself into just that, a deviant, with all its unsavory connotations. Disagree at one’s peril!
We have entered a strange Orwellian world, not of Stalinesque brutality, but one more of progressive religiosity, almost a new type of theocracy, with its own dogmas and high priests. Whoever controls the narrative controls the world. And that control takes the form of a constrained Overton window of acceptability. It is an extraordinary linguistic management that influences perceptions, and many times so subtle the control is hardly noticed. Yet tyranny is the deliberate erasure of nuance, demanding that it be only black and white. No one wants to be on the losing side of history. Hysteria is now the language of public discourse in the US.
But an open point of view that leads to conversation and not compels conclusion is the means to coming together, of resolving conflict with understanding rather than bombast. Today that is almost impossible, expressing one’s opinion might mean losing one’s friends and even one’s employment. Sadly, this type of “RightThink” leads to “DoubleThink”, knowing the truth but accepting the lie. That is creating a society of disenchanted and disfranchised citizens. It seems this purposeful small Overton window of public debate precludes any coming together in consensus. One can only ask “Why?”
Thx so much for the incredibly deep insight PJ!
Your ending – where you ask “Why” is so profound. In many ways, it is so hard to know why exactly. In a sense, democracy as a concept seems to atrophy at times. The atrophy that we now see can be due to many factors that have been percolating over time. Regardless though, so many of us are aware of the powerful changes taking place. This is why so many people that we know of or read about are left shaking their heads everyday at the “extraordinary linguistic management” that’s being applied to many areas of our lives.
And yes, there is a chance that a sense of “DoubleThink” is arising. After all, many people are practical enough to be able to navigate things. As you hint at PJ, there is deep concern with many about where this is going. If it continues…the disenfranchising that you eloquently speak of will become more commonplace. At that point, democracy will wither. And yes, this new form of thinking – although somewhat religious in intensity, seems to lack what many religions tend to offer, a necessary respect for both free-will + redemption.
As a corollary, I was reminded of what you talk of when I watched a travel documentary on Poland. In this documentary people talked at length of the great awakening that took place in their country when Poland became a Democratic-Republic. At that point, people were encouraged to play their part as a truer stakeholder in both their lives + in their country.
As for debate, I agree. Open-ended debate is a tool used to create a sense of discovery. And it also is a tool used find sparks of insights that can live on + give hope to so many.
Once again…thx for the great dialogue PJ! 🙂
“When there is no such thing as Truth, there is no Reality. And when there is no such thing as Reality, there is only Power. And then Power will define Reality.”
A short video expanding this point –
Excellent points PJ!
And yes…the search for truth usually takes place where this is civil discussion + debate of ideas. Apparent truth – where agreement on the particulars is agreed upon through debate, has been a powerful force in modern life. It provides an anchor to civil societies.
Thx for the dialogue PJ! 🙂
Great observation and so importantly relevant for today. When I watch or hear the media today, there is a checklist in which I take in account. I won’t bore you with the laundry list of these things but my first instinct is to never react right away, especially emotionally. What I have found is an initial breaking story is reeled back and even reluctantly retracted (usually quietly) over several days. The initial ideological exaggeration and wrong assumptions are the ones that unfortunately sticks in majority of easily led people’s mind and the ideological media know this.
The biggest one on my checklist is:
“What is the motivation of the story”
Sometimes it is so obvious that the headlines gives it away, other times it is found in the slanted writings or talking points of the topic at hand. Other time it is subtle and even subliminal at times.
With that said, to address the agenda of the media both corporate and tech, you spoke about a winner that takes all when truly so many people lose, through censorship of free speech and shared information. In effect this is how democracy dies when the loudest people in the room think there can be no room for healthy constructive debate. At this point it just becomes awkward, people become disenfranchised and tend to isolate into tribal groups that have like beliefs. But is that how we want interact with people in general? Doesn’t if get mundane to talk to the people that agree with you time and time again? We tend to get stagnant in our way of thinking if we don’t consider controversial (what is controversial to us as individuals) topics that can be discussed and occasionally, might even give us a healthier view of the world.
Do yourselves a favor and take in stride what the media has to offer, but keep in mind the motivation, especially when it comes to toxic opinion or commentaries (which seems to be more common than actual journalism) Whatever your entrenched view of political or cultural norms should be, get out of your comfort zone and rationally speak to others that don’t share your point views. It is invigorating, thought provoking, and yes even frustrating at times, but in a friendly cordial kind of way. This is what the media has taken away to what was once one of the pillars that connected most Americans but now is being used as a judging and ostricizing tool on who you associate with. I pray that we can find ourselves as a nation again and to realize that we can be stronger with respected differences but continued division often ends in only one way.
The one hope I have is that approval ratings for the media is just as low as it is for politicians which tells me most Americans get it and understand the agenda of corruption and lies based on a sliver of truth.
Hey Jefro…regarding the media, you hit the nail on the head!
I really appreciate what you had to say regarding the motivation for some of the stories in the media. Also, the observation you made about how some stories come + go quickly is quite astute. How many times have we seen a teaser story floated out in the media only to see it languish within a wk.
As you talk of, it is truly sad to see how the media now rushes to marginalize both people + ideas. Obviously, there’s a herding aspect to this process. And unfortunately, the awkwardness that you talk of becomes all too real for so many. How many times have we seen the ganging up process take place when someone tries – even diplomatically, to bring up ideas that go against an established narrative.
As you say, there seems to be an agenda with much of the media. And yes, the agenda being pushed often ends up shutting down civil debate + discussion about the most vital issues of the day. Whether this shutting down is explicitly by design, or whether it evolves in an unconscious way, is hard to know. Either way…America seems to be moving more towards a rigid + unyielding tribalism. This tribalism is truly apparent regarding political issues. And yes, this tribalism is a threat to democracy.
Although American history is strife with conflict, it goes without saying that the American spirit of compromise
that was a birthright of our nation, seems to be fading. In the past – there was usually hope that an appeal to reason based on universally accepted norms, words + political definitions, could prevail. That spirit of compromise now seems to be rare.
And yes Jefro, the sense of learning from each other that you talk of, seems to be fading too. With this – the isolation of ideas, people, + knowledge compounds to the point that the search for truth – which sometimes comes about in a shared way, is hindered.
For example, the famous physics debates between Einstein + the physicist Neils Bohr that took place as a search for truth almost 100 years ago, were groundbreaking since they advanced modern ideas about physics. Only through sincere debate were these titans of physics able to come to conclusions that laid the groundwork for modern physics. In addition, like many great ideas that’ve impacted science, these famous physics debates left the door open for further scientific exploration that continues to this day. What if these 2 brilliant scientists never agreed to debate, be challenged by, + learn from each other?
I agree with you that we need to take the media on face value, and that we need to continue to try to speak rationally with each other + at times, move out of our comfort zone in a search for truth. And yes, with approval ratings for both the media + politicians at low points – it is up to all of us to keep the true spirit of democracy alive. Hopefully, America can return to the concept of having a unity based upon an ability to agree to disagree civilly, civil debate, + respect for the rule of law + common decency.
Thx so much for the great dialogue Jefro! Take Care! 🙂
I appreciate folks like you Perry to try and look at these issues from an “outside looking in” perspective. I pray that you, and more people like you, can be the mouthpiece of reason in attempt to mend the torn fabric of America. I long for the day of the America I once knew. It was not perfect but much more in lock step with eachother than just a short decade ago. Mutual respect may be a thing of the past but Human Dignity for all peoples regardless of class, ethnicities, gender, cultures or ideologies can be observed and respected by all. We should never be judged by the groups that we identify with (unless hateful/violent) but by individual character and by how we treat others. I like that you are attempting to bridge the gap Perry. Never give up.
Media technology has been quite persuasive in the past 2 decades by gradual and subtle attempts to divide people. I believe the last decade though proved they overplayed their hand as all thinking Americans can see through both right and left extreme theatrics and tactics of “so called” journalism.
Welcome back Jefro + thx for the kind words!
Like you said, people like you + I – as well as many others, are becoming the voices of reason as America tries to steady itself after years of such intensely volatile rhetoric. And yes, as we seek to return somewhat to the America of true inclusion for all, it behooves us to truly look beyond the divisions, + look to the basic unity that America offered for years. The American ideal of unity was always based upon an attempt to respect different subcultures + norms, all while enjoying the freedom to engage in the lifestyle that appealed to each individual. All in all, we were Americans first. This delicate balance, which embraced the notion of agreeing to disagree, was held together with checks + balances that guaranteed that there would be an attempt to give equal treatment to all under the law.
And I agree with you – America was never perfect. And since perfection is somewhat unable to be attained, America was one of the countries, along with many other democracies, that offered a sense of hope that the individuals that came here could follow their hearts + live a life with a strong amount of freedom. After all, these features are the reason why so many people come to America.
Like you said, many of us are seeing that the divisive tactics have been overplayed.
Till next time Jefro! 🙂
You have a great mind Perry. Second only to your curiosity. Thank you for bring up The Epistemological Problems in Atomic Physics.
Similarly evasive is the epistemology of democracy. And as your readers point out, this is made difficult due to the motivations of a paid content, free press. Your readers are astute to point out the motivations of media companies that contribute to our current conundrum.
The answer is so obvious it gets missed. Money. People forget, money is not a value. Money is a commodity. Numbers are random symbols that we assign values to.
A species will live and die for what it values. History is what happens in between. When that history is reflected on, it can then be plainly seen, what values did that species keep?
When money is the value, money has power. Sensationalism increases ratings and ratings make money, so what ever drives ratings is what gets aired. Fear and divisiveness drive political engagement, so fear and divisiveness drive politics.
Money = speech.
Speech = representation.
Representation = power.
Numbers are not values. We live our values. How we interact with the day to day is tangible proof of our values. Do we listen and respond to those around us with kindness, compassion and understanding? It may seem a bit amorphic, like the epistemology of atomic physics, but that’s life, a great and beautiful mystery.
Just like Niels Bohr and Albert Einstein, I think, as a species, we could find a great deal of agreement in what we value and move ahead based on that.
Love you and keep up your amazing work. Best of luck with the work/life tight rope. I respect you for that. You are my Phillippe Petit. ~ TE
Welcome back Tom + thx for the insights + compliment! Profound thoughts you have here. 🙂
Yeah…the The Epistemological Problems in Atomic Physics seem to mirror other issues in life. After all, since physics – the most elemental of sciences, is enveloped in such great + beautiful mysteries, it’d behoove us to realize that life itself is enveloped in mystery. Since Quantum Physics is able to be harnessed as well as it has – while still being mysterious, is a testament to how the titans of modern physics laid aside their egos in the search for truth. And since the truth discovered in modern physics has been achieved through high levels of collaboration, it’d behoove us to realize that this kind of collaborative mindset can be applied to other areas of life such as governments, the media, + democracy.
And yes Tom…you’re so correct to point out that high levels of division play out in the media now since there’s such pressure to drive ratings up. The numbers – reflected in ratings, often are reflected in more money + more power. And on + on it goes. Unfortunately, collaborative political answers that allow for a range of thought – while still holding forth to the discovery of truth, are sometimes not stuff that will drive ratings up. But that’s where you & I so many other people come in.
There is a strong movement these days to try to make the political process reflect more of a collaborative effort. In line with this, we need to encourage more a media-driven approach that gives more respect to allowing for more collaboration along the range of political thought. The more that this is allowed to take hold, the more truthful + calmer the political process may become. And that would probably benefit all of us.
Thx again Tom for your insights, take care + feel free to comment anytime!
I’ve been saying for a long time that the loss of a fair and impartial news media is the first step towards the end of our democracy.
But, now I am more optimistic about things.
Why? Because of the internet. Putin in the war in the Ukraine thinks he can control the information that his citizens can access. But instead, the Russian people are able to find real news about the war over the Internet.
I really don’t think Putin foresaw this. Putin is a dictator. He admires Stalin. Stalin was able to control the flow of news to his citizens and I think Putin thought he could do the same.
I think the Internet is going to make the free world much less tolerant to wars like Ukraine. I really believe that for any international leader to try to control the news to their people, five more people, who have no hidden agenda, will supply unbiased news over the Internet. Governments are finding it harder and harder to lie to their citizens.
This is a good thing
Thx for stopping by! 🙂
Yeah…its been proven for centuries that democracy, + access to information is so very important for civilized society. In addition, its generally a given that war between democracies – where the dissemination of info is more prevalent, is rare due to the fact that so many average citizens have a stake in the system.
Let us hope + pray that your ideas will have a positive impact on bringing an end to the current war in the Ukraine.
Feel free to stop by anytime. The spirit of dialogue is so important!
I say … democracy is taking a hard beating during these unpredictable times.🥲
I tend to agree for the most part. We’re in one of democracy’s historic low points. However, just as we’ve seen before – and with the support of many of us, democracy can rebound.
Thx for stopping by America On Coffee and keep up the good work w your informative blog! 🙂