A hallmark of democracy is the ability to create and alter government to satisfy the needs of the people. In a constitutional democratic republic, the nation is governed by a set of laws written by elected representatives to best represent the needs and concerns of the citizenry. In theory, we the people have the power to control our government. When the government no longer satisfies our needs, or best represents our interests, we have the power to alter or abolish it.
But, a true upheaval of power requires unity. The government must become so oppressive or distanced from the people that the wants and needs of the citizenry are either ignored or actively silenced. The people, who once held the power, feel helpless in the hands of their government. The government, which was once acted in favor of the public, now only cares for its best interests. In this instance, if the collective views this as a problem, they are justified in overthrowing the governing powers.
Although they may be suppressed by the state-run military and opposed by members of the citizenry who still benefit from the state, typically the elites, the people will find a way to overcome the obstacles placed before them. By the number of able bodies, there will always be more citizens than government officials. Although the weapons may rest in the hands of power, by sheer numbers, revolutionaries, who are united in their cause, will always prevail. Additionally, if the government allows provisions for the citizenry to legally own weapons, the cause of the people will prevail more quickly.
However, if the citizenry is divided, how can the people overthrow an unjust government? Also, if a new leader comes to power who enforces rules that only benefit the interests of half the people, how can long-lasting change take place? One side will always resist the new ruler and the ruler’s supporters. This creates further discontentment, frustration and animosity among the citizenry. Who does this benefit? The elites, as always, yet, I digress.
What we are currently seeing in America is a moment marked by deep fissures between political ideologies. The election of Donald Trump to the presidency was not the catalyst, but the consequence of years of instability. After Barack Obama was elected in 2008, many on the right took up arms to oppose him. For many reasons, they saw his influence and the popularity of leftist ideologies as a threat to their way of life. They saw Trump as a solution to eight years of perceived injustices. Those who voted for Trump took a chance on a candidate with no experience in government who they perceived could revolutionize and transform politics in Washington.
To some, he was their savior, to others he was their damnation. Now that the House, Senate and, soon to be, Supreme Court are controlled by right-ward leaning politicians and justices, Trump can make as many changes as he wants as quickly as he wants. As long as he retains support from fellow Republicans, he has the ability to dramatically alter the course of American history.
What does this mean for those who did not vote for him and refuse to support him? Will their voices simply fade away like the losing team at a baseball game? They heralded their victor, yet lost. How can we move forward and maintain politics as usual? We cannot. The next four years have the potential to bring about monumental change for the nation. With the appointment of cabinet positions, we are already seeing this take place. For the left, January 20 is approaching like a behemoth on the horizon. For the right, a white horse is riding in from the distance.
So, what does the opposition do when democracy no longer works in their favor? If the revolution they had been seeking turns against them, how do they move forward? It is important to remember that both the right and the left were calling for changes. People on both sides of the spectrum were in favor of political upheaval. The right believed their rights and voice were being stolen. The left believed the same, yet for different reasons. During the election season, voters from the left believed that the progressive ideals President Obama promoted had taken a lasting hold on the American people. The left assumed, we’re all angry, but at least the oppressive voices we have attempted to silence for decades are now beginning to adapt our message.
But on November 8, everything changed. What some had thought was impossible had finally happened. It was a revolution, but it was not in favor of the traditional revolutionaries. The democracy they had taken for granted for the past eight years worked against them, and suddenly they became afraid. What do you do when democracy is thrown in your face? When you’re not the forefront of the revolution? Is this how the right felt eight years ago, they wondered?
Since election night, the Democratic party has been performing diagnostic tests on everything that led up to that night in November. How can we move forward, what can we do better, they ask? But their main concern is not whether they can get back on their feet in the next four years, but whether the system that would allow them to get back on their feet will still be in place? If this is the revolution, since the nation is so divided, can there be lasting change?
However, to prevent national internal combustion, the nation needs to continue looking forward. For those on the right, the next four years will be dominated by Trump’s policies. For those on the left, it’s time to rebuild. As stated earlier, the election of Trump was not a catalyst for, but a consequence of years of instability. It would be inaccurate to blame that instability on one party or another. We are all to blame. No one is perfect, especially politicians. As the diagnostics take place, we must find a way to come together.
If we continue to pull apart, physics will have its way. Like a great cord experiencing an overwhelming amount of tension, something will give and the cord will tear apart. Is that what we want? Do we want complete division? Do we want to continue sounding off with our friends in political echo chambers? Do we want to watch as democracy, the fabric of our nation, begins to unwind? For me, the answer to all these questions is, affirmatively, no.
So, what do we do? We pick ourselves up, we dust ourselves off, and we keep moving forward. We the people define what we want our government to look like, and if it doesn’t satisfy us, we change it. But we must recognize when changes take place that we don’t appreciate. We must first understand why the thing happened, and then find a way to address it.
We will not find solutions if we remain in our safe spaces. There is a time and place for mourning, grief, denial and regret, but life is about perseverance and overcoming struggle. According to Winston Churchill, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except all others that have been tried.” It is the worst because it only takes a slim margin to swing in the favor of one’s opposition. But it is superior to all other forms of government because the power is still in the hands of the people. Democracy, though not in its purest form, is a hallmark of what it means to be an American. Let us not lose sight of that.
We are the change. Let us never become too tired or discouraged to forget.
Collegian blogger Nataleah Small can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.