America’s Political Arab Spring
By working together peacefully to create political change, we demonstrate we are mature enough to handle direct democracy.
[UPDATED] Six years ago, protesting corruption and injustice, Tunisian street vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi, set himself on fire in front of Tunisian municipal headquarters. The uprising resulted in the toppling of iron-fisted President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, igniting a revolution that spread around the Arab world known as the Arab Spring.A country so distant, so small, yet parallels exist between our two nations that are remarkable enough to take notice. And as we imagine ourselves to be intelligent and sophisticated enough to keep from setting ourselves on fire to make a point, evidently we’re considering voting a political candidate into office more than willing to do it for us.
Despite glaring shortcomings, America’s influence has been instrumental in making the world a better place. But, like an emperor whose citizens have finally discovered who buys his clothes, we are experiencing the full force of the inherent limitations within America’s model of democracy forewarned by our Founding Fathers—and it’s been a long time coming.
In his Farewell Address, George Washington cautioned political parties would be “potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people, and to usurp for themselves the reins of government.”
Failing to become the exception to former great and powerful civilizations, at some point influence turned into abuse of power, and oh, the blowback. If we wish to, “Restore this country to greatness,” as one presidential candidate campaigns, let’s be honest about when and how we left it.
After all the 20th century hard-fought modest gains in human rights, the end of last century saw them once again systematically eroded by special interest groups and their politicians. Necessary social safety nets and regulation continue to be under attack.
Just as taking proper care of our veterans who valiantly served our country must be included in the cost of war, so too must social responsibility be included as the human cost of doing business within an imperfect economic system that creates a loser for every winner.
Global trade agreements further allow the U.S. to find itself complicit in human rights violations, taking advantage of lower wages and leaner standards in struggling nations. Meanwhile, according to the Luxembourg Income Study, quality of life and the wages of the average American are falling behind other nations.
To prevent “too much” Democracy, our Founding Fathers created a Republic, inserting the Electoral College into the Constitution to ensure public vote could be trumped. Fearing an uneducated public, John Adams said, “Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself.”
But what about when a Republic wastes and exhausts its people? Sadly, citizens who distrust government and feel alienated from society are at higher risk of turning violent, acting out their frustration.
According to an International Republican Institute poll, Tunisian concerns center around job creation, improved standards of living, and public safety. They say, that “remedying political dysfunction – is the key condition for implementing positive lasting change.” Sound familiar?
Pew Research says 75% of Americans share the same concerns. Where Americans are divided is how much government should play a role in alleviating poverty, injustice, and corruption. Government is neither the problem, nor the solution, but does play a vital role in regulating fairness and equality when individual and corporate moral compasses lose their way to greed.
The truth is the ripple effect of Bouazizi’s actions continues to reverberate around the world, including the U.S. as rage boiling over. The disenfranchised and those who’ve always suspected their vote doesn’t count for much are determined to have their say. Will the electoral college step in if they believe public sentiment has gone in the wrong direction?
It’s imperative we are vigilantly mindful that our choices, directly and indirectly, serve all of humanity beyond personal interests and short-term victories. (And we have more than two.) Let us not allow fear and anger to inform our decisions.
After Tunisia displaced their 23-year hardliner, it appears we will have two hardliners of our own to choose from this November. In the middle of our political season, let us pause for a moment.
By working together peacefully to create political change, we demonstrate we are mature enough to handle direct democracy. As the world watches, the next six months will be very telling.
Are you ready for it?