Democracy at work

Democracy at work

The U.S. presidential election is over. States are still counting some votes to determine close races. But they've counted enough votes to know how the election will play out for the U.S. president.

Crowds took to the streets to celebrate. Many felt relief that there was a conclusion. But many assumed that a win for one party was a loss for the opposing party. And no wonder, given how often President Trump wanted to keep aid from Democrat states. ("Contrary to Viral Claim, Trump OK’d Aid for California Fires") In the end, the States did get the support they needed. But it should never have been a question. That's not how democracies work. That's how they fail.

Only letting members of the winning party gain from an election undermines the rule of law. It runs counter to the ideal of equal treatment for everyone by the government. It undermines the whole point of democracy: letting society have a say in its government. If only the people who agree with you can have a voice or receive government services, it's not a democracy. This is why we have the civil service in the U.S.

Democracies imply elections, and elections mean change. No election determines the shape of government forever. The consequences of choices made in an election have an expiration date. There's always a subsequent election. If we support a democratic government, then we must defend the outcome of free and democratic elections.

Elections have consequences. They determine the relative priorities for how we try to solve everyday problems. But the issues are still shared by everyone regardless of party affiliation. Solutions need to help everyone. We need diversity, regardless of party affiliation, if we want reasonable solutions. ("Delivering through diversity")

Democratic government requires compromise, and politics is nothing more than a series of negotiations. Businesses negotiate all the time. Which is more important: achieving a goal or making someone else lose?

We are all somewhat progressive and want the world to become a better place. We want to reduce unfairness and injustice. Many of the differences come from the details. Do we want progress for ourselves and our children or everyone? Do we want our country to improve at the expense of other countries? Or do we want to find ways for everyone to win, even if they don't look like us or don't live next door?

We don’t have to agree with all the policies or all the approaches to our shared goals. We need to support a functioning, healthy government. We must be able to find ways to compromise where we can solve problems. Otherwise, we won't solve anything.

This approach isn’t about unifying the country by getting others to abandon their values or their party. That’s not real unification but oppression that delays needed conversations. It makes people angry and hardens their resolve. Instead, unification is about meeting in the middle. It's about realizing that opposing poles must give up something for now if they want to make any progress at all.

What can you do?

The best course of action is to take a deep breath and stay calm. It doesn't matter where on the political spectrum you see yourself. Instead, dig into what you want the government to do and see what the core goal might be. Then consider how you might achieve that goal while minimizing harm to others.

This way isn't easy. It takes empathy—being able to step into another person's shoes and seeing the world from their point of view. What impact does your goal have on someone else? Would you want to trade places with them? If not, then you should reconsider your plan.

Take a hot button item like health care. The Affordable Care Act is before the U.S. Supreme Court. ("A Supreme Court decision to strike down the ACA would create chaos in the health care system") Is the goal of the suit to tear down a signature achievement of a past president, help states avoid paying for health care, or make American health care better?  If it's to make health care better, then how does invalidating the Act achieve that goal? If someone lost their health insurance because of a preexisting condition, would you be willing to trade places with them?

A better goal is renegotiating how the states pay for the expansion of health care access. People should have access to affordable health care, but it shouldn't bankrupt state governments. Affordable health care is just one aspect of the social safety net. States also provide lunches for students, meal support for mothers and children, lost income support for the unemployed. And much more. We must find a way for all of this to work for those who need it.

There's no one-sentence statement that can capture all of the nuances of a goal around affordable care, much less anything else of consequence. But it doesn't hurt to try. Recognize the fears and hopes of others who might disagree with you. Show them a way forward that helps them. Find something that lets everyone win.

That's how democracy thrives.