Restoring Faith in Democracy
07 Nov 2020

Restoring Faith in Democracy

It is not perfect, it is not

07 Nov 2020

It is not perfect, it is not infallible, it is not the recipe for automatically creating a happy world, but on days like today, DEMOCRACY (with a capital letter) gives us back our faith in humanity. For too many years, democracy had become a system that allowed the most cynical, the most demagogic, the most lying and the most populist to come to power, just because they shouted louder, divided society and radicalized the common citizen. Today it is clear that this can stop. It is a sign of hope. 

On Monday the world will remain exactly the same. The pandemic continues, the economic crisis may worsen, racism and violence will continue to make headlines in the United States, but the party that is taking place today in the streets of the great American cities gives us hope that the path may be different. 

In this era of populist demagogues, it was becoming very difficult to explain to my children and my students the goodness and essential principles of democracy. How is it possible that an openly misogynist, racist, violent guy, who threatens the media and wants to use the presidency to increase his family’s fortune, can win the presidency of the oldest and most powerful democracy in the world? That was the question I was asked constantly. But if it was difficult to explain why he won the first time, it would have been absolutely impossible to explain why, after abusing power, as he promised, people were taking him back to the presidency. I wouldn’t have known how to explain that anymore.

Fortunately, I don’t have to anymore, and today I can write about 3 great lessons that this election leaves us with. 

The first big lesson is that bills are paid in a democracy. People do have a limit to cynicism, to lies, to violence and to corruption. The joy in the streets that we see today is not free. It is not the jubilation for the triumph of a great candidate. Biden didn’t inspire even his closest allies. But he turned out to be the best candidate to defeat the demagogue in the essential places. Today he can boast that he is the president with the most votes in history: 74 million and counting (Obama had 69 million). He beat an incumbent president by 4 million. And that’s historic. It is very difficult to beat a president who has control of the entire government apparatus, in addition to the Senate, and who was not bent on using it with a huge display of cynicism. The Democrats kept control of the Lower House and they can still have control of the Senate, with the decisive vote of her vice president, the first woman in history to hold that position. He turned states that had been voting Republican for three decades, such as Georgia and Arizona (until today), upside down and restored the famous blue wall of Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, in favor of the Democrats. And there are still those who say that his victory is not decisive. But if we go back to his campaign, we can see that it is not a triumph based on great proposals or overwhelming charisma. Biden’s project is very similar to that of his predecessors. During the campaign we heard more slogans than concrete public policies. On the side of charisma, it is very difficult to argue that the overwhelming victory has to do with the inspiration that his person provokes. 

It is actually a campaign that we political scientists will study for decades. The motto of the campaign was «We can restore the soul of our nation. It’s a very powerful phrase, and apparently very effective. First «We,» us, a call to collaborate to rebuild the country together. Then «Can» we, taking up the Obama campaign slogan «Yes we can», a call to dream that we can, to restore hope. Then «Restore», to talk about something that has been lost, but not forever, and that can be repaired. And the key words «Soul» and «Nation”. The first one evokes the idea that there is something that founds the nation project, something that is behind power and its motives. It is a word that evokes founding principles that must not change with every election, that must not be violated with a change of party. And finally, the word Nation, the common place, the place of all, the space that belongs to no one because it belongs to everyone. 

I think that’s the key. Trump is picking up the tab for attacking the soul of a nation that takes pride in its founding principles. He thought all this was gone, and he was wrong.

The second big lesson is that people get tired of lies, polarization, and ineffective government action. Trump bet everything on the economy. If I keep the economy train running, they will love me, he thought, and he said it several times with all cynicism. He was wrong. The United States is the country with the most total deaths from the pandemic in the world, and control is far from assured. Amidst the euphoria of the election they returned to alarming numbers, not seen since August, of 1,000 deaths per day. Instead of using his power to contain the pandemic, the outgoing president turned to playing golf and deflecting responsibility, as well as ferociously attacking his critics, instead of saving lives. No more of this, the American electorate told him. 

The third big lesson is that democracy can again be that space where different people come together for a common cause. What was the cause that united the people of Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, etc.? To get the populist demagogue out of power. It’s as simple as that. From there, there is much work to be done, but you will no longer have to deal with the great divider. They didn’t have to agree on everything, they only had to agree on one thing: we need to get rid of the main cause of the division.

These three lessons can be imported into Mexico. First, we need to make politicians pay the bill: hold them accountable for lies, broken promises, threats to critics, and corruption with impunity. It is time to learn to be citizens who hold their politicians accountable and run the cynics out of their jobs. It is time to let them know that we believe in democracy and its core values, and that we want this nation called Mexico to be the place of All and for All. Second, it is time to reject lying and polarization as the normal way to exercise power. We need politicians who tell the truth, who take responsibility and who are concerned with unifying the country in a common project. And third, it is time to use democracy for what it is meant to be: the common space in which we all build a new project for the nation. It is simply a matter of agreeing on what unites us and accepting diversity as something that enriches us. We are ready.

Ilustration: Marco Colín

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