The 250th anniversary of the adoption of the Constitution of the United States is fast approaching. We can celebrate being the oldest constitutional democracy in the world. Our form of government, however, is under undue stresses that cause many to worry as to whether we can show the same resiliency of the past going forward in the next century. While our form of government endured a civil war that attempted to split our country apart, can we endure a former president leading a dishonest campaign backed by the majority of a major political party to overturn the results of a political campaign? Endure the dispelling of scientific research that would end a pandemic? Sustain our way of life when political leaders turn their heads on the rapidly evolving evidence of climate change? When the results of most elections and passage of legislation depend on who has the most money? Endure when public support of governmental institutions and political leaders are at historic lows? And many more seemingly improbable challenges.
Many scholars spend a lot of time thinking and writing about these challenges. Most recently, the American Academy of Arts and Science established a Commission on the Practice of Democratic Citizenship that issued a report, “Our Common Purpose: Reinventing American Democracy for the 21st Century.” You can read the report online or request a free copy at www.amacad.org/OurCommonPurpose. I suspect that you will not agree with all its conclusions as I do not, but the amount of public participation that went into its writing is quite impressive. It will certainly lead to lively discussions. Its conclusion is frightening.
“We have no time to waste. Our constitutional democracy is only as strong as our belief in it. For love of freedom and equality, for love of country, for love of one another, and our hope for a better future, we need to reclaim our bond … we can transform our institutions, elevate our culture. We can at last achieve a true democracy.”
The immediate task is to become active in our state and local elections to ensure that misinformation and negativism are rejected and that persons of good moral character are elected through our participation in campaigns. For next year it means that we speak out against the voices of hate and lies and that we work tirelessly to defeat those who would destroy our form of government for their own personal gain. This is no time for silence or inaction. Too much is at stake.
For the long run it means that we study our form of government and how it might be improved through established procedures and institutions. We can improve our form of government as we have throughout the last two and a half centuries. We need to be careful in actions we take to ensure that we are moving in the direction of enhancing democracy. Reinventing our democracy can lead to greater equality and more freedom. We have a great form of government. Let’s build on it for even greater equality and freedom.