I have found that there are three major essentials for as democratic republic to succeed. Step one is fair and open elections. Step two is that the electorate must accept the results of the election.
Obviously, if your candidate or issue won, you will find it easy to accept the outcome. But it is just as important that the “losing” side will accept the results. Luckily, the United States has not suffered through a military coup d’etat such as those inflicted on many fledgling democratically-elected governments; think how long it has taken for much of Latin America (Argentina, Chile, El Salvador, et al.) to learn the importance of patience. A legitimate argument can be made the refusal to accept election results triggered the U.S. Civil War.
So, how do you get the conditions needed for getting the body politic to accept election results, regardless of the outcome? There are several elements that help; I don’t pretend that this is a comprehensive list, and welcome any suggestions. I do know that the elements I have create momentum, just as refusing to adopt them creates negative momentum.
- Make this a part of the curriculum for all schools, either through a required civics class or through a critical thinking class. Of course, that means that there has to be more time dedicated to teaching students to think and less standardized testing, AND that there needs to be broader-based support for public schools, but the benefits far outweigh the costs.
- Tell Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, and their ilk to put a sock in it. Their standard fall-back excuse is that they are entertainers, and no one should be interfering with their First Amendment rights. They’re right in that respect, but they need to understand that with influence comes responsibility. Even though it has been suspended, there was a good reason for the Fairness in Broadcasting Act to be created. Let me be clear here; I am not for oppressing Rush’s opinions in any way, but I am arguing that he needs to be civil. For example, the Oxbridge schools have developed a sophisticated political spectrum that is far better than our current model (more on that in a later post), and it shows that Rush and George Will are virtually identical in their placements upon the spectrum. Yet, I read everything Will writes and condemn almost everything Limbaugh says. The difference? George Will treats his opponents with respect, always refers to “the President”, etc., while Limbaugh holds up a photo of Chelsea Clinton and refers to her as “the White House dog”, let alone the publicity insults he has spouted since then. When Limbaugh does stuff like this, or Anne Coulter suggests that certain Supreme Court justices should be assassinated, they provide mentally-unbalanced types with a rationale to objectify those they oppose, leading to hate speech and incidents like the attempted assassination and real-life murders in Arizona.
- Overlapping with Part One, there has to be all that can be done to avoid the appearance of impropriety. While hardly my favorite president, George W. Bush was unfairly undermined by the controversy in Florida and he never got to start his presidency with the “honeymoon period” that is standard. Not coincidentally, I heard more Democrats treat him with incivility and disrespect than I ever heard aimed at all the previous Republican presidents of my lifetime combined (incivility is inexcusable, regardless of who the target is.)