I loved the idea of President Biden’s Summit for Democracy when it was first announced. As a democrat who’s American, I never thought, until quite recently, that the United States of America as a “the bastion of global democracy” would ever be in question much less that it would qualify as one that is “backsliding.” That all 538 members of the U.S. Congress who swore an oath “to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic” are not making it paramount in December, 2021 to enfranchise every single eligible American citizen and make sure their votes actually count — the very engine of self-governance that makes a democracy a democracy — is astonishing for any American democrat.
But this isn’t about that. Nor is it about criticizing any of the post-summit particulars that the president and his administration are planning in the coming weeks and months. The impact any of it will have on the overall project of buttressing democracy where it is and expanding it into where it isn’t remains to be seen. Right now, I appreciate that the president of the United States has clearly and repeatedly articulated the democracy-vs-autocracy framing that is obvious on the world stage. I also appreciate that he and his administration have repeatedly acknowledged the reality of the erosion of democracy here at home. Call it an attitude of gratitude.
Yet I can’t help but believe that whatever the president and his administration will do and say about the state of democracy in America and everywhere could all be anchored far more securely in and made more effective by adhering to some of the concepts by which we conscious politics practitioners live. Starting with intention, good news! It seems quite straightforward: for America to right its own ship of democracy and for it to reestablish itself as a beacon of democracy on the planet. Yes, in that order.
And as Thomas Jefferson admonished: “A well-informed citizenry is the best defense against tyranny.” Our citizenry today is not well-informed about this issue so I’d add informing it as an intention. Americans must know the ways in which their votes are being suppressed and their enfranchisement is being compromised. They must know and understand that profound changes to who counts the votes in their precincts and who certifies them as legitimate in their counties and states have been and are being made — by anti-democratic Republicans. They must know that the same people who rail against socialism and communism but embrace authoritarianism, the ones who boast that they would not have certified the 2020 presidential election vote tallies had they had the power — now have the power. If everyone’s OK with that, great. But not everyone is informed enough to decide whether they are or not. However we get there, the intention is a well-informed citizenry.
Anti-democratic forces in the shape and form of the Republican party are powerful and loud. They are not, however, more powerful than the heartsick cries of generations of discarded and disregarded Americans whose original sin was to be not-White in America.
The next lens through which I’d suggest we look is presence — acknowledging and accepting things as they are whether we like them or not, which the administration seems to be doing. The gargantuan opportunity, then, is to build on that acknowledgment by doing whatever we might do to repair our democracy under the equivalent of blaring klieg lights of transparency. Transparency engenders trust and trust is what’s required for our democracy to reform and thrive. Trust is also what’s required for the world to accept, when the time comes, that America’s democratic mojo is back and stronger than ever. Without trust, we got nada.
Next up, beliefs matter. Every bit of communication about this subject should be anchored in a set of beliefs such as:
Voting should be easy.
It matters who counts the votes.
America has a long, strong history of free and fair elections.
Accepting the results of elections is patriotic.
Upholding oaths of office is patriotic.
Democrats win elections through the power of their ideas.
Reestablishing America as a beacon of democracy is paramount.
Self-determination is a human right.
Self-governance is our choice.
Republicans don’t want you to vote.
Midterm elections are winnable for the sitting president’s party.
Whatever the agreed-to beliefs actually are, they should be relentlessly repeated by democrats and Democrats at every opportunity.
Now we arrive at that one about how we belong to the planet, not the planet to us. Stay with me here. One of the ways the planet manages itself is through networks of interconnections and interdependencies (check out “The Hidden Life of Trees” for one example.) The point is, as part of the fabric of Life on this planet, we humans thrive when we align ourselves with its nature — and that’s what fostering interconnections and interdependencies with other humans does. Thus, in line with the president’s democracy-vs-autocracy frame, spotlights on and stories about individual people and groups and organizations who are advocating for and implementing democracy wherever they are should be made ubiquitous to freedom-seeking humans everywhere. As Yale history professor and author, Timothy Snyder, says, democracies rise and fall together. We teach and learn from one another. The more interconnection there is, the stronger we all will be. That’s Nature talking, by the way, not me.
Meanwhile, what is more quintessentially American than saying we’ve been knocked down and will rise up and rebound to be stronger than ever? The more clear we are about what we’re doing and why, the more transparently we do it, the more we work in conjunction with others, the more successful we will be. Anti-democratic forces in the shape and form of the Republican party are powerful and loud. They are not, however, more powerful than the heartsick cries of generations of discarded and disregarded Americans whose original sin was to be not-White in America. They know it is only a truly democratic society that will create the room and space for everyone to pursue their happiness and it is for those who have yet to experience being free in America that we might dedicate this cause. Then we’ll spread it around again like the tonic it is.