Over My Shoulder: Celebrate Democracy

Birthdays are a time to take stock of things. How was the past year? What do I want to see in the coming year? As we get ready for the 242nd birthday of our country, it seems like a good time to pause and take a good look at what we’ve become as a nation and how we feel about our democracy.

Fortunately, the Pew Research Center people have done this for us. In an April 2018 report of “key findings on Americans’ views” of our political system they noted many trends in our thinking. For the most part we like our democracy, but think some significant changes should be made.    

Certain values and ideals are the basis for our Constitution which was hammered out over a period of time and ratified in 1788, cementing the promise of 1776’s Declaration of Independence. Many think that these values and ideals are no longer part of American life. The Constitution has proven to be foundational for life in this country. It also has been adaptable, as various amendments were added to address important issues that were not considered in the Founding Fathers’ time. Amendments have given the vote to freed slaves and to women, have imposed prohibition of alcohol and later repealed it. We have been given many rights and with these rights come responsibilities.

The survey revealed that while most of us are satisfied with our democracy we see the need for some changes. One of the major things we said we’d like to see is a revision of the way presidents are elected so that “the candidate who receives the most total votes nationwide – rather than a majority in the Electoral College – wins the presidency.”

Few of us appear to approve of the “tone of political debate,” which we don’t see as “respectful.” It does seem that we are growing farther apart instead of coming together in the great melting pot. The idea of agreeing to disagree and still have a friendly debate is disappearing from our public discourse.

There is “cynicism about money and politics.” According to the Pew survey, Americans think that those “who donate a lot of money to elected officials have more political influence than others.” Seventy-seven percent of those interviewed supported limits on the amount of money individuals and organizations can spend on political campaigns and issues.

We see “democracy as working well, but most say significant changes are needed.” That’s the good news. We like our democracy and want to improve it to bring it into the 21st century. When we recognize the intentions behind the framers of the Constitutions we realize that some of their hopes and dreams are not quite as relevant today as they were 242 years ago. They could not have foreseen a world of instant communication, of tremendous growth or of our diversity. Suggesting change is not heresy but reality.

In general, we want to see our country grow and prosper with opportunities for all. If we were to blow out all 242 candles with one wish, it would likely be that we continue to enjoy our freedoms and want to see them strengthened where needed and changed where necessary.

Happy Birthday, y’all.

Ann Robson is the author of “Over My Shoulder: Tales of Life and Death and Everything In Between.” She can be reached at overmyshoulder@charter.net.