Name: Rachel Bina
School: North Allegheny Intermediate High
Division: High School
The fundamental belief of our founders was that all people are created equal and have inalienable rights to free speech, free assembly, freedom of religion, and due process of the law. However, in establishing our country, our ancestors were presented with the age-old question of how to govern our new country. Having witnessed unfulfilling experiments with communism, monarchies, dictatorships, and numerous other varieties of governments, democracy took the lead and provided the only viable solution. Democracy was the only form of government that faithfully represented the will of the citizens of our new country. In concept, a democratic government is designed to follow the citizen’s consensus and to protect the rights of the citizens as they choose them to be. As Abraham Lincoln once said of the American government, I believe that democracy is, or at least should be, a “government by the people, of the people, and for the people.”
Our democracy has been the most important factor in the rise of both the United States of America as a country and its citizens. Living in a democratic society provided us, as citizens, the opportunities needed to succeed on all levels, regardless of our race, social status, or religious beliefs. However, our democracy is not perfect and comes with its own set of problems. In a democracy, human beings have attained the shining pinnacle of equality and fairness- everyone is equal, everyone is respected, and every voice matters. Right? A quick survey of any democratic country will tell you that this is a golden visage painted over an ugly truth - all democracies struggle with these issues. This has recently come to the forefront in the United States, with political leaders insulting each other left and right, racial tensions running high, minorities feeling targeted by police and disadvantaged by education systems, and voters questioning if their voice really matters, as legislation passes over a chorus of yeses and noes. Triggered by one of the most divisive elections in history - the election of Donald Trump, many Americans are questioning the stability of our democracy. This raises the question, is democracy the best choice for the United States, and is it even important at all?
My answer to these questions is a resounding yes. Our democracy has never been more important, even though we often take its benefits for granted. When talking about the importance of democracy the first things that come to mind are reminiscent of my grade-school class recitations - democracy is important because it provides people rights and representation. While at first glance this answer may sound overly generalized, a deeper analysis reveals the remarkable truth behind this statement.
A democracy is a form of government that bases its decisions on the will of the people. In the United States, our democracy takes the form of a representative government where we elect representatives to represent our wishes in Congress. Our democratic system, like all true democracies, allows American citizens to dictate the course of our country. This allows people’s thoughts and ideas to be heard. Without representation, without responding to the will of the people, governments become authoritarian. They follow the ideas of one individual or a small ruling body. This creates dissent and instability and prevents thoughtful deliberation. Take, for example, Venezuela, their authoritarian President Nicolas Maduro’s lack of foresight into the possible repercussions of taking hold of the country’s resources led to a deep recession, food shortages, and a difficult road to recovery. In a democracy, the thoughtful deliberation of these ideas with Venezuela’s citizens may have avoided many of these problems.
That is not to say that the voices of the citizens are always heard in a democracy either. Democratic representation is only a reflection of who votes, or who can vote. In the 2016 and 2018 elections, absentee ballots and early voting systems were significantly reduced, making it much harder for people who could not get time off from work on Election Day to vote. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, cutting early voting is a form of voter suppression because it leaders to longer lines and prevents poor, minority and underprivileged citizens from voting. They report that in 2012 that two times the number of early votes in Ohio were black voters compared to white, and in North Carolina, 70% of the black vote was completed via early voting in the same year. Adding onto this, lobbying efforts by large corporations have continued to have an influence on our political system. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, a non-profit political research group, more than $2.59 billion dollars were spent on lobbying in 2018. This has resulted in the inability to pass strict gun regulation and the dissolution of net neutrality - against the will of the majority of Americans.
Being confronted by all of these factors, it seems to some that our representative democracy is breaking down. However, this short-sighted view is far from the truth. Our democracy is as strong as ever. Whether you like Trump or not. Whether you long for the Obama years or not. Our everyday lives represent the normal ebb and flow of our democracy. This is what we tend to forget. Just ask yourself why immigrants, like my own mother, strive to live in a democracy like the United States? When asked, she responded that, growing up in a communist country, she did not have the basic human right of free speech, and that people feared for their lives if they criticized the government. In countries like the United States, rights like freedom of speech are taken for granted; however, in countries like China, Russia, and Saudi Arabia with authoritarian governments, these rights are not guaranteed. The recent murder of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi for being critical of his government is a gruesome reminder to all Americans of why our democracy remains important. Liu Xiaobo, a Chinese Nobel laureate who worked to end Chinese communism said, “Free expression is the base of human rights, the root of human nature and the mother of truth. To kill free speech is to insult human rights, to stifle human nature and to suppress truth”.
While human rights are not a core tenet of democracy, it has succeeded many times where other forms of government have failed. Syria’s monarchy called a chemical attack on its own civilian citizens. Authoritarian China has instituted “re-education camps” for its Muslim citizens. It is true that democracy is not perfect, with children immigrating to the United States dying in detention centers on our southern border, but in democracy, change is enacted in response to these human rights violations. The Syrian chemical attack went largely unpunished, and so far, so has the Chinese detention centers, but in our democracy, human rights violations are corrected according to the will of the people. Once photos were released from border detention centers in the United States there was extreme backlash and legislation was rushed to be passed – which was only possible with the freedoms that allowed those photos to pass into the hands of the citizens. Democracies function on the basis of free speech – if the citizens are uninformed, the government is too. While at times, democracy may seem broken, it always picks itself back up with a new law, a new plan, or new leadership.
In the United States, we praise our veterans for fighting for our freedoms but take them for granted. We see this reflected in our elections – in the 2018 midterms only 47% of eligible voters voted, and this was the highest rate in the past 50 years. Representation is a core tenet of democracy, and yet because we take it for granted, when less than half of our voting population votes, it becomes record turnout. This does not have to be the case, and this should not be the case. If democracy is truly important, it needs to be treated as such. Voters should be voting. There is a growing sentiment that ‘my vote doesn’t really count’, but in the same way of Bernie Sanders’ 2016 election, 8 million donations of $27 dollars counts, and 200 million single votes added together count. As it stands, democracy, our newest governmental experiment, is the best idea that we have to date. With a better track record for human rights, just leaders, economic growth, and simply the happiness of its citizens- democracy, is the government of choice and needs to be treated as such.
"Cutting Early Voting Is Voter Suppression." ACLU, www.aclu.org/issues/voting-rights/cutting-early-voting-voter-suppre.... Accessed 31 Dec. 2018.
"Lobbying Database." Open Secrets, Center for Responsive Politics, www.opensecrets.org/lobby/index.php. Accessed 31 Dec. 2018.
Time. 26 July 2016, time.com/4421574/democratic-convention-bernie-sanders-speech-transcript/. Accessed 31 Dec. 2018.