The slogan of The Washington Post is “democracy dies in darkness,” but maybe the unfortunate truth is that it dies in the light. As Americans take to the polls to vote in the 2020 Democratic presidential primaries, it’s important to take a minute to assess the state of our democracy.
American political institutions fail to accurately reflect the opinions of the majority of voters; for example, according to Gallup, 64 percent of Americans would like to see stricter laws regarding gun sales and 66 percent believe global warming is caused by human activity. Yet political discourse fails to reflect this relatively broad consensus. Instead, both parties take a binary position at odds with each other. Politics has become a tool that divides us and brings out win-at-all-cost partisan zealots that are willing to sacrifice friendships over disagreements.
The problem with politics today is we are eager to pick a side. We love to frame politics in terms of a simple conflict between Warren and Sanders or Biden and Trump. In doing so, we ensure there is always something to talk or tweet about, but we fail to ask ourselves more important questions about what we truly think.
I was recently asked what my “political philosophy” is and, much to my own disappointment, I didn’t even know where to begin. Instead of blaming my own lack of contemplation, I blame the system: The two-party structure of America tells us not to develop our own philosophy. We are supposed to pick someone who best represents our views and then argue with anyone who disagrees with us on Facebook.
Politics has become an external act—supporting a candidate—instead of an internal quest to determine how you think the world should look. I believe that the only way to find satisfaction in politics is to find a candidate or movement that advances your personal vision of justice. To do so, you first must contemplate what you think justice is. Since we no longer do so, we deprive ourselves of the only opportunity to find meaning in politics.
Suddenly, democracy is a chore: something we do out of a perceived obligation, not love. We pick a few issues we care about, irrespective of how they align with our underlying philosophy, and then watch the TV network that tells us what we want to hear.
As demonstrated by the complete lack of viable alternatives, democracy is probably the best form of government. However, the more we ask ourselves why, the harder it is to answer. Maybe one day a benevolent philosopher king will take the wheel and we can all sit back and relax without having to worry about this governing thing. Then, we would not have to ask big, scary questions about our own political philosophy. But until that day comes, we must revive our critical thinking abilities before we blink and it’s too late.