America’s Baby Steps in Democracy
Another 4th of July and this infant nation of America celebrates another birthday, it’s 238th. As it struggles to make its baby steps in the continuity of democracy, I take a pause to contemplate how well it’s taking those steps. I am using the visual metaphor of a mother holding on to a toddler’s hands as the child pinions for a sense of balance and newly found independence. The mother in my mind is the great mother of democracy, Greece, and the child is the US.
On the face of it, it seems that the child has learned well. It was born with the spark of democracy; it’s founding fathers well versed in the ancients. Tom Jefferson knew how to read write and probably speak ancient Greek. This grand experiment began with the firm foundation that the Athenian democratic republic modeled for it. Of course, it was far from perfect. Slaves and women were not considered true voting citizens neither in Athens nor in Washington, D.C. But it was a step in the right direction. So much of what is great and noble in America is due to its foundation in Grecian ideals. The values of freedom, individual liberty, but balanced with the sense of civic duty honor and reverence for the common good, permeated the womb for this new nation. In fact I believe America was referred to as the new Greece at one time in its development.
However, this baby nation is still very young and has not set itself right on the course for true democracy–that ideal where every voice is heard where every constituent owns a fair and equal stake in the progress of the country. In the last 20 years, it has grown painfully clear that America has steered far from the original ideals of Hellenic democracy. Democracy has instead been replaced by crony capitalism where the 1% have appropriated over 50% of the country’s resources where a constituent’s voice is as proportionately loud as its bank, and “the commons” are quickly disappearing under the jaggernaut of big business under the guise of doing good for the common good but in reality is coopting the commons for its own advantage. In the 60’s when there were loud grassroots protests against one injustice or another, the government listened. There existed the actual possibility that the voice of the people would be taken into account by the decision makers sitting around oval tables behind all those classical white buildings topped with Corinthian columns in mimicry of the great halls of Athenian governance. Now whether 1.5 million congregate to decry the war in Iraq or huddle in downtown squares to protest the disparities of wealth, the voice of the people falls on dumb ears. There’s a growing sense that democracy the way it was conceived by our ancient ancestors is not viable anymore in 21st century America. Too many feel that their voice and their vote just doesn’t make a difference. The will of might makes right.
It seems clear to me that this little baby nation of America would do well to turn back to its mother ancient Hellas and get a refresher course in what true democracy is. It needs to cling more closely to its mothers apron strings and get a suckle on the breast of equality, libert,y and justice for all. America needs to be reborn. With that being said it is still one of the nations closest to realizing the ancient Athenian ideals it was founded on. Even modern day Greece, which stands as the direct descendent of democracy, is faring quite badly in living up to its own standards.
C’mon then America you can do it! One more baby step– listen to your mama. Go straight and narrow! No swerving too far to the right nor the left. Take the golden middle; be fair be just to all; listen to the lowliest of your members because it is by them that your virtue will be measured. Keep trying to walk straight and you will grow up to be a fine noble lady in white just as proud and beautiful like those marble statues that flank your grandest halls. You will bear the torch of liberty and justice for all. Then you will stand as the proper icon of democracy your mother Hellas brought you up to be.