Richard Nisley

History - American Released - Aug 09, 2020
The first time I visited Washington D.C., I was disappointed in seeing the state of the grass on the Washington Mall. It was not the spotless green and manicured perfection that I expected; rather it was worn and matted, from too much foot traffic At first, I was disappointed, until it dawned on me that this is how it should be in a democracy, where public places are meant to be inhabited by people; while in a dictatorship those very lawns would be a vision of emerald-green perfection, because people would not be welcome on them, but rather be told to keep off, or risk being arrested.

In a dictatorship, appearances are everything, as most dictators don't care about their own people, but are overly concerned with how the world sees their country, particularly its public spaces. For the most part dictators care more about law and order, than about people, whom they secretly despise and view with irrational fear.

Democracy, on the other hand–where power stems from the people–is seldom orderly, but messy and sometimes unruly. In a democracy, the people have the power, and that power is the right to choose. In a democracy, leaders come and go, but the government institutions live on.

Democracy is all about freedom–freedom to vote, freedom of speech, freedom to assemble, freedom to protest, and freedom to worship as one chooses. The hallmarks of democracy are the rule of law, an independent judiciary, and, perhaps most important of all, a free press. Our Constitution was written to safeguard these institutions, and to protect our sacred freedoms. The first words are, tellingly, "We the People . . ."

While our democracy has made a number of mistakes, it has shown a remarkable ability to self-correct and, for this we have a free press to thank. It was television news, after all, that exposed the lies surrounding U.S involvement in the Vietnam War, and, recently, has shown (by way of the cruel killing of George Floyd) that police brutality is a very real problem, and that, despite years of progress, racism is still with us.

Regarding social injustice, I find it appalling that in our democracy immigrants are being held hostage at the Mexican border, and their children are locked up.

Sadly, it's hardly new. In World War II, a great number of Japanese Americans (many of them recent immigrants) were taken from their homes and interned in prison camps.

And then there's Andrew Jackson, our first populist president, who forced native Americans off their ancestral lands in the southeastern United States in what has become known as "The Trail of Tears." Our government made several treaties thereafter, and honored none of them.

Judging by the social progress that has been made over the past 100 years (women granted the right to vote; Black Americans granted citizenship; child labor outlawed, etc.), I believe it is only a matter of time, and the injustices done to Black and Native Americans–and to brown-skin immigrants–will be rectified.

(Interestingly, the Supreme Court recently upheld the claim of native Americans to land in Oklahoma under an original treaty provision.)

Various quotes on democracy:

"We the people are the rightful masters of both Congress and the courts, not to overthrow the Constitution but to overthrow the men who pervert the Constitution." – Abraham Lincoln

"Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choices are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education." – Franklin D. Roosevelt

"Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide." – John Adams

"The best defense against usurpatory government is an assertive citizenry." – William F. Buckley, Jr.

"Some of us gave a little blood for the right to participate in the democratic process." – John Lewis, who led the civil rights march across the Edmund Pettis Bridge.

"Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer, but the right answer. Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past. Let us accept our own responsibility for the future." – John F. Kennedy

"As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy. Whatever differs from this, to the extent of the difference, is no democracy/" – Abraham Lincoln

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