Democracy, a tool for manipulation in politics

Democracy isn’t always a good thing.

Our Founding Fathers were well aware of the limitations of democracy when they constructed our republic: A representative form of democracy, not a system of direct democracy for its citizens.

There are multiple things that can go wrong with democracy.

Democracy can encourage indifference and misinformation. Representative democracy can lead down a path of political disenchantment, wherein citizens believe their voices aren’t heard or represented.

In a country of 300 million people, I am sympathetic toward those who claim their voices are drowned out, even when they cast votes. However, there are still other means to influence your political community and voting is one of many small things one can do to express one’s political voice.

Many individuals, who lead busy, diverse lives, choose not to participate in politics, simply because they believe they aren’t affected by political outcomes (they are, but this is a separate issue).

For them, as long as they can lead a free, stable and relatively private life, they are satisfied and content with their society. Thus, they do not put much emphasis on the privilege and duty of participating — even in a small way — in American politics.

We also have a poorly informed and severely misguided voting pool to worry about. In contrast to these less vocal citizens, many people are quick to retain political slogans; these people are perhaps too quick to process political dogma and become easily manipulated by the system in which they attempt to serve.

This is exactly how prominent Greek philosophers, like Plato, offered their critic of democracy. They argued that passionate, likeable personalities — demagogues — can come along and persuade the communal masses to give themselves great political power. In the same way, citizens give up their political power by aligning themselves with these passionate, likable personalities with powerful slogans who might not really know how to lead countries.

Plato’s assertion not only makes me cautious about democracy but weary about politicians and people with power in general.

While our Constitution sets up certain parameters to prevent unbridled election, it also paved the way for Constitutional changes. The result, among others, is the 17th Amendment, an amendment that gave states the right to directly elect state senators. Before this, senators were elected indirectly by state legislators – a smarter choice.

Look at the political landscape of today: Former Pennsylvania Gov. Rick Santorum claims to be “conservative,” while so-called “conservatives” claim that President Barack Obama is a Marxist. These statements are misinformed and uneducated — direct result of the power that disinterested individuals and power-hungry demagogues can have on a populace.

The “Tytler Cycle,” a popular saying often attributed to historian Alexander Tytler, offers a somewhat robust critique of a democratic political system: “A democracy is always temporary in nature.”

It cycles from “bondage to spiritual faith” to liberty from courage, to complacency from apathy, to apathy to dependence. From dependence, democracy returns to democracy.

Democracy can lead society down challenging roads and America isn’t always ready to handle them.

 

Reach the columnist at spmccaul@asu.edu or follow him at sean_mccauley

 

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