“Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”
For those outside the US that don’t know, and for the Americans who have been on another planet, tomorrow, November 8th, is election day in the United States. What this means is that we’ll have a new President in the White House, and more importantly, the excruciating-to-watch, bare-knuckle slugfest of a presidential campaign will be finished.
American democracy is a big, complex beast, and this election, for the most part, has shown nothing but its ugly side. A two-party system guarantees polarized opinions, but saying that this election was contentious must be the understatement of the century.
At Gallivance we don’t often stray into the political arena, but sometimes it’s impossible to prevent the kettle from boiling over. And while the animosity in this Clinton vs. Trump battle was appalling, it isn’t unprecedented. If you travel back to democracy’s beginnings, there’s a historical precedent for this whole, messy process, and Athens in the 5th Century BC was the place and time.
Government “By the People” has a good ring to it, but as this earlier published post explains, the reality isn’t always so rosy. BTW, please vote tomorrow.
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“Congress Approval Rating Lower Than Porn, Polygamy,
BP Oil Spill, ‘U.S. Going Communist’ “
Non-stop partisan bickering, brinksmanship as the sole negotiating tool, and school-yard finger pointing – are these traits of professional politicians? I suspect that at one time or another, most of us have thought: “Even I could do better than that!” Well, if you were an ancient Athenian, it would’ve been possible.
We spent a month in Athens; at the time, their economy was melting down, and the harsh realities of the bailout deal negotiated with the European Union was sending economic shock waves through the city. Protests and riots were common, and the city was chockablock with heavily-armed law enforcement officers. Obviously, the governed weren’t very happy with the government, and they were exercising their democratic right to rebel. I found it ironic that so much civil discord was taking place in the birthplace of democracy.
During the 5th century BC, Athens was the intellectual center of the world. Greek society had made huge strides forward in art, architecture, literature, philosophy, and politics. Suddenly, common people had new, individual freedoms thanks to an Athenian invention – democracy.
Democracy in Athens was direct, unlike the US, which is representative. In a direct democracy citizens don’t elect people to represent them. Instead, the people ARE the government, and they decide and vote on the laws themselves.
I find the direct democracy in Greece intriguing because most officials in the government weren’t elected, but were chosen by a random drawing (we’re talking lottery here)! If you wanted to serve, you just tossed your name into the hat, and crossed your fingers. If chosen, you served only once, and for only one year. Imagine the difference this would make in decision making today: no more career politicians voting just to keep their jobs; freedom to vote for what was actually best for the country; no more Inside-the-Beltway folks to blame for bad choices.
“Congress’s approval rating hits new low: 9 percent”
Athenian democracy was a big improvement over aristocratic rule, but it was far from perfect. The biggest problem, when viewed with 21st Century eyes, is that the privilege to participate and vote was denied to women, slaves, and foreigners. If you were an Athenian male, the government was democratic. For all others, it wasn’t democratic at all.
I love the idea that for 100 years Athens was a state run by complete amateurs. Given what’s going on in Washington today, I’d say the amateurs are back in town.
James & Terri