Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Democracy isn't Dead or Dying in America

A lot of people are defending American voters and blaming the politicians for the terrible voter turnout in the 2014 US midterms, the lowest since 1942. I recently talked to somebody who said America has no leaders worth voting for.  

No leaders? It has probably the best leader in the world as President in terms of vision; down to earth understanding of the problems and ability and willingness to create intelligent, workable solutions; integrity and absence of ego in decision making; clarity of thought; wisdom and courage; humanity; generosity.  It’s an almost unprecedented package in a President.  

Yet a huge number of voters have been choosing to hate him since he was elected. Their hatred isn't based on fact and they choose not to look at that, either. They believe whatever they read. So should we blame the media? We can't really do that because the media provides  whatever attracts the most readers. The percentage of truth in media reports is a direct response to what the majority of people want to read. FOX News, whose capacity to distort facts is unbeatable also has unbeatable ratings. It has recently reached its 150th month as #1 amongst cable news. That's a lot of misinformation reaching a lot of people who want to hear it, for a long time.  

What about Democrat politicians who didn't have the courage to stand up for their President, should we blame them? To some degree, yes we should. It's ironic that they didn't and they lost anyway. Proof that courage is a winning attribute.  

But politicians respond to opinion polls. So we’re back to ordinary people in the street making simple choices. Do I believe what I read, or do I use my own brain? Do I face my prejudices and fears and deal with them courageously so I can look for and recognize the truth, or do I take the easy route and feed gluttonously on junk? It’s very satisfying at some level but it’s addictive and the more you imbibe the harder it gets to kick the habit.

Politicians aren’t a causative element in democracy; they’re a symptom. If we don’t want to accept that we don’t have to. But it’s a choice that will have a consequence, which we won’t like. And who are we going to blame then? 

When life is challenging it’s about the hardest thing in the world to say “okay, what am I doing to contribute to where I’m at?” Usually we can’t because we judge ourselves so harshly that it’s easier to avoid accountability altogether. But it’s the only thing that effects real change in our lives. America’s democracy looks like it’s under threat but it isn’t; this is what democracy is about; learning to be accountable at a personal level for the choices we make with regard to those who make our laws.   

Barack Obama being elected was a symptom of the beginnings of immense social change in the US. But change doesn’t happen easily and overnight, especially the kind that he signifies. The state of politics at the moment is a symptom of everything in the American psyche that is resisting real change. And that resistance only rises up in response to real change happening deep within.

On the road to change, nothing is as it seems. When you think you’re over the worst you’ve really just rolled up your sleeves and embraced, accepted, the idea of change, and that’s what happened when Barack Obama was elected. It’s a point of no return, though, because that acceptance highlights everything in you that has stopped you from moving forward until this point, and that made it necessary for you to change if you want a better life.  Once you engage in facing all of that stuff you go through a period that seems unrelentingly dark, a downward, backward slide. You hit your lowest point, which seems the worst. But actually it’s the best because it means you’ve faced all the obstacles and from then on things get better. Slowly at first, then exponentially.

The first African American President was never going to have an easy time. There’s too much deeply buried prejudice and fear in too many Americans’ psyches. As it’s risen to the surface and manifested as allegiance to right-wing media misinformation and hatred within the middle class of the man who’s been rooting for them, it’s been an ugly, distressing and depressing thing to see. 

But at least it’s visible now. You can’t take on an enemy you can't see and don't even know exists. Changing deep-rooted beliefs and fears in individuals and societies isn't fun at one level. It's terrifying, uncomfortable, it tears you apart as you build allegiance to a new, broader idea more embracing of the good things in life but cling to the old ideas because they're safe and comfortable at some level even while they're strangling you. Unfortunately, though, in this it's no pain, no gain. 

And the pain is in itself a symptom that things are getting better and there's something about wrestling with change that makes you feel so alive, despite the discomfort. So democracy in America isn't dead, it's just waking up after a long sleep that was comfortable for some but at the cost of too many to last.