Democracy commits suicide, Democracy is a dirty business, How to improve democracy, Political but non-partisan, Political but nonpartisan, Political but not partisan, Political Parties undermine Democracy, Ragged capitalism, Samara Centre for Democracy, Toxic Partisanship
I suspect the unsuspecting think we will be engaging in democracy in this upcoming election. In fact we will be holding our noses as we try to select either – a candidate who would become a member of parliament who might condescend to represent their constituency – or – we may select a candidate who is a member of a party we hope will keep their promises and follow the ethics with which we might more or less agree.
Excuse my suspicion. I do not believe in politicians.
Democracy – it’s a dirty business
Democracy – it’s a dirty business, but it’s the only business in town to form a government. And to be fair, we have been warned of this eventual abysmal state of democracy ever since the modern iteration came to be. In less than a generation after the U.S. War of Independence, founding father and 2nd U.S. President, John Adams wrote to John Taylor, the tenth President (December 17, 1814):
Remember democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet, that did not commit suicide. It is in vain to say that democracy is less vain, less proud, less selfish, less ambitious or less avaricious than aristocracy or monarchy. It is not true in fact and no where appears in history. Those passions are the same in all men under all forms of simple government, and when unchecked, produce the same effects of fraud, violence, and cruelty.
When clear prospects are opened before vanity, pride, avarice or ambition, for their easy gratification, it is hard for the most considerate philosophers and the most conscientious moralists to resist the temptation.
Cynical? Realistic? Insightful?
In a way, we’ve been watching our democracies commit suicide… and we are grieving.
If you belong to a political party – then you might well wonder what on earth am I talking about? You may well treat politics like a team sport so that all that matters is that your team wins. But there’s the rub: you may be completely unaware that when your team (or any team) wins – everyone looses. As Jen Gerson lamented:
… this utterly cynical election is already feeling like the ones before it; with petty, micro-targeted incentives to high value, persuadable voters, focus-grouped one-liners. It’s politics deployed as Twitter and TikTok meme warfare…. [it’s] A game of whose leader can look ‘hotter’ on the policy brochure.
Political Parties and Toxic Partisanship
In early August The Globe and Mail ran an article on highly esteemed Jody Wilson-Raybould (former Solicitor General and Minister of Justice) who talked about toxic partisanship and why she wouldn’t run again. Her idealistic bubble burst as she confessed, “I believed that we were going to do what we promised.” Was she just naive, overconfident, or was she also dishonest with herself? Surely in her life time she would never have known a politician/political party to “do what they promised”.
To read more of Wilson-Raybould’s thoughts on politics, see her MacLean’s interview on “Ottawa’s Power Problem.”
Speaking to the point of toxic partisanship, in late July, Jean-Paul Ruszkowski, former CEO of the Parliamentary Centre, and David Kilgour, fomer Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons wrote: “Are Political Parties undermining democratic practices.” They provided four suggestions as to how the work environment in Parliament could be improved:
1: Standing committees should deliberately invite to participate MPs who do not meet the requirements for a party status in the House of Commons. It should include the right to vote.
2: Every minister of the crown has someone to liaise with parliamentarians. Such individuals should not be allowed to tell parliamentarians how to vote. Their role should be limited to informing parliamentarians on matters of substance and reporting to the minister what parliamentarians wish to communicate.
3: The legislator should not be bound by any instructions from the whip regarding committee work.
4: If parliamentarians are independent or belong to a party without research capacity, they should be able to access alternative means to conduct the research required to fulfil their mandate. Funding should be made available to hire expertise they may require to research issues of interest to their constituents or the nation.
The authors end with this note of discernment:
“If political parties oppose such changes, it would be a clear sign that they prefer to undermine practices conducive to greater sustainability of our democracy.”
Dirty Business and Toxicity
The Samara Centre for Democracy recently reported that out of more than 350,000 comments sent to incumbent candidates on Twitter during the first week of the federal election campaign, more than a quarter were considered toxic, with “low toxic” being insults, sexist language or rude comments – and “severely toxic” containing hateful, aggressive comments or threats of violence against candidates or their families.
None of this acceptable; none of this helps create the society anyone wants to live in.
This is my little encouragement to not add to the dirty business of politics or to the toxic language that neither furthers constructive debate nor contributes to the common good. We can do better even if politicians do poorly. We can be disappointed, frustrated, and angry at the silliness and the corruption, but that doesn’t mean we would become like the thing we disdain.
Pray & Engage in the Process
Please continue to pray for our politicians despite their apparent difficulty with ethics and honesty. It must be difficult to be in a profession where one is beholding to both party and financiers; one must be especially alert to the compromises that come with the source of money.
Please continue to engage respectfully in the political process – being very, very careful not to be sucked into partisan politics and political party favouritism.
In other words – don’t lose your sense of proportion and ethics just because the party for which you vote does.