Kennedy: The State of Democracy is up to us.

Sean Kennedy

What does equality look like to you?

What is freedom worth to you?

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What would you be willing to do to protect the liberty of yourself and others in your community?

These are questions that dominate my thinking these days, yet appear in mere flashes, if at all in the discourse of political figures that spatters itself across my newspaper, television and social media feeds with talks of  fights; liberals versus conservatives, Democrats versus Republicans, each equally cacophonous and self-assured in their right to rule the country. But who is right?

In the course of human history, the prevailing narratives have often been written by the winners. From the Crusades and the sack of Rome to westward expansion and the Cold War, world events and how they are popularly interpreted have been influenced in large part, if not dictated in some instances, by the values of the victorious party. But what is written when there can’t be a winner? What happens when no one is right?

This is a question that future historians will have the luxury of hindsight in answering when discussing American politics in the 21st century, but one that we as a country must address right now, which is unfortunate because we as Americans are terrible at dealing with problems in the here and now. In fact, our inability to do so is what has gotten our political system where it is today. The sanctity of our democracy as it serves all Americans has been weakened by years of widespread apathy. Think about it: when you’ve met people who refuse to vote or participate in politics, how do they most often justify doing so? They say, “Oh, the system is rigged,” or, “Politicians don’t serve me, so why bother?” 

Well, the system is going to serve us whether we like it or not, even if it’s not fair. That’s how government works. The degradation of civil liberties and freedom that has accelerated over the past two decades is the direct result of sentiments like these from voters and political parties’ abject refusal to hold the interests of all citizens above those of the elites that fund them. While there is certainly fault for those who are given power and abuse it, a majority of the blame lies with ourselves as citizens for not doing more to maintain a system that we installed to work for us.

I’m bringing this up now because the 2016 election season as it stands so far has illustrated the almost total failure of both main political parties to serve as faithful representatives for all Americans, with each succumbing to corruption and tyranny in their own ways in rather public fashion.

On the right, as we recently saw, the GOP caved in its resolve and bowed to a man who, policy objections aside, has all the makings of a rising tyrant. Donald Trump regularly bullies and belittles women and political opponents, uses minorities and civil rights advocates as scapegoats for larger, unrelated issues, has expressed admiration for authoritarian regimes and dictators on multiple occasions, and relies almost singlehandedly  on fear and hatred to fuel his rise in power. All of those signs point to future tyranny and, regardless of your thoughts on his actual policies, present an extreme, immediate threat to our liberty as Americans. For all the strongman rhetoric that generally comes out of GOP circles, the fight put up by its leaders to stop tyranny from taking the party was surprisingly weak.

On the left, the Democrats enter their convention this week with their party’s leadership in shambles after it was made public that they did most everything short of voter fraud to get Hillary Clinton nominated and oust the threat-to-the-elite Sanders.Their plans to secure federal appointments for wealthy fundraisers have also been made plain, as well as their general collusion with, and increased lust for wealthy, elite donors. These revelations seem to provide a strong indication that Clinton’s promises on the campaign trail to curb the influence of big money in politics are about as genuine as her insistence that she didn’t willfully mishandle classified information.

Frankly, her essentially handpicked nomination can be seen as wholly symbolic of the arrogance and corruption of Democratic Party leadership that helped fuel Donald Trump’s rise in power. Indeed, the GOP is partly to blame failing to quell a tyrant in their own party. However, the fact that the Democratic Party, in perhaps the most winnable election ever, deliberately worked to cast aside an honest, anti-corruption candidate in favor of their handpicked conduit for  wealthy elite interests should be equally condemned by Americans.

Now this isn’t to say that the federal government is a wholly evil or corrupted entity; there are still plenty of honest officials out there who work hard to represent the interests of their voters. However, we can no longer ignore that the sanctity of our democracy and the strength of the liberties we enjoy as Americans are growing increasingly more frail with each election due to the priorities of a majority of representatives. This isn’t an issue we can kick down the road any longer if we wish to keep enjoying the same kind of freedoms that we have for decades.

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As a white male millennial, I and others of my demographic were born into an America that generally was and is, for all intents and purposes, the best. We don’t know any other reality for our nation because we haven’t had any real challenges to our status quo, so our incentive to participate in politics may be dulled because we don’t know what it’s like to not have it. Even our parents’ generation, for the most part, doesn’t know what it’s like to have democracy threatened by anything other than military means, as many of them were born too young to fully understand the unrest of the 1960s and 70s.

This means we must actively work to find passion for ourselves to fight for and protect the standards of freedom that we enjoy as a country since we do not have the serendipitous pleasure of real life doing it for us as of yet. We must pay attention to every new law that is passed. We must watch what public officials do, not just listen to what they say. We must investigate what results from government actions, and note how they defend their choices. We must watch the videos of all killings; by cops, of cops, justified or in reckless murder. We must pay respect to all the victims. We must soak in the chaos and disorder of a nation thirsting for change to remember why we can no longer afford to stay complacent. We must remind ourselves why it was that we embraced the ideals of democracy and liberty that we have and what a luxury it is to exercise those freedoms so that we may rekindle the passion to actively defend them from those who would take them from us, since the threat of such a thing happening is slowly but surely developing.

This brings me back to my original questions. What does equality look like to you? What is freedom worth to you? What you would be willing to do to protect the liberty of yourself and others in your community? These are questions that everyone must answer for themselves: just as no two people are the same, no two answers are the same, and the result of our country collectively answering these questions will be an abstract conglomeration of everyone’s visions. Let me provide my own as an example.

Equality is knowing that your voice will be heard, valued and represented as fairly and passionately in government as those of others. It is seeing that everyone, regardless of economic status, race, gender or age is protected the same under the law and held equally accountable for their actions. It is ensuring that everyone has the ability to pursue their own vision of success and happiness without oppression from others.

Freedom is worth the price of government. The costs that we pay, both literally and figuratively, to fund and give credence to an authority is more than worth it if that system can be faithfully maintained to assure that all people cooperating with it can pursue happiness with as little impediment as possible. It is worth finding compromise in personal views with others so that all may more fully prosper and live free. It is worth parting with some income to fund services that benefit everyone. It is worth risking one’s life so that future people can enjoy the same privilege.

As to the last question, I can’t say I know, either for myself or what will be required of us a whole people to defend our liberty. This column hasn’t been leading up to an endorsement of a third-party candidate, or any other official for that matter. Neither is this a call for outright revolution against the government, peaceful or otherwise. I don’t know if the change we need requires action as drastic as replacing the entire foundation on which we formed our country, and that’s not for me to decide for others anyway. The best avenue for change among these or other options remains unclear.

What is clear to me at this point is that we can no longer rely on traditional avenues to enact necessary change for ourselves in government. Both major parties, the Democrats and the Republicans have failed to faithfully represent the interests of all American people, and can no longer be trusted to be a consistent platform for which to spread our own personal values. Moreover, the current level of resistance and protest of undemocratic government policy may not be enough; people are striving, crying and in some cases dying for change, but the prevailing ears in government do not appear to be receptive to our pleas.

Whatever your own thoughts on these matters are, we need to prepare ourselves for the fact that we may need to more actively resist tyranny and abuse of authority in our own communities. However you think it best to act to advocate for equality and freedom for all, do know that we all may need to do more impress our voices upon those with the power to change the conversation. We need to be ready to fight for our freedom.

Collegian Assistant Opinion Editor and Columnist Sean Kennedy can be reached at letters@collegian.com or on Twitter.