The Dead End of Democracy

Trigger Warning: This is an overtly political piece, a piece about America, freedom, and the dead end of democracy. If you’re prone to fits of violence over political issues, feel free to move along.

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It’s Independence Week, the week we celebrate our nation’s birth. It’s a festive week, a week to wallow in and indulge our freedoms–the freedom to grill meat, launch miniature missiles made in China, and overeat Aunt Maude’s famous apple pie. Freedom–ain’t it grand?

It’s an American tradition, this annual celebration. It’s Democracy’s birthday, an unabashed celebration of our freedoms of speech, assembly, and commercial enterprise. We light the candles on the cake of our free press, free elections, and free government provisions. We open the presents of the free market. Freedom, freedom, freedom–it’s the only thing that unifies us these days.

Yet, with all these freedoms, it seems our version of democracy has taken an ugly turn. It’s become more polarized, more vitriolic, perhaps more violent than ever. Yesterday, our President used his own freedoms to take the spotlight off the great history and tradition of our country; he used his freedoms to turn the spotlight toward himself. (Could anything be more American?) He kicked off this Independence week with a tweet that portrayed him as some sort of hero beating down the free press. It was an indefensible GIF.

Of course, the President is free to tweet this sort of violent propaganda (tweeting isn’t directly proscribed by the Constitution, see). What good is freedom, though, without the constraints of character, wisdom, and civility? How beautiful is the exercise of freedom if it induces some loon with an assault rifle (owned pursuant to his Second Amendment freedoms) to act on the President’s propaganda, to take aim at a reporter or two? When freedom slashes the jugular of common decency and social norms, when it lets civility bleed out on the kitchen floor, when it mocks death, freedom is an ugly thing.

The greatest freedom enjoyed by any citizen in any democracy is the freedom to constrain his own personal freedoms. The freedom to act in ways that serve and protect our neighbors, to restrain our speech for the sake of civil discourse, to govern our behavior to create liberty and justice for all (even the press)–these are the freedoms exercised by true statesmen. When we indulge every freedom, when we elevate personal agendas (or Twitter rants) over the collective good, when we wallow in self-indulgence, we undercut the foundational principles of our country’s democracy; we show ourselves to be anything but statesmen.

It’s Independence week, and I’m thinking about modern America. I’m afraid we’ve reached a dead end in this great experiment in democracy. It’s the dead end born of a freedom our founding father’s never contemplated–the freedom to wallow in our own narcissism. And if you’re prone to think this is an unfounded conclusion, allow me to offer this exhibit into evidence: the Twitter feed of President Donald J. Trump.

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