When I was in high school, I was part of a group called Amnesty International, an organization which fought for the human rights of all people in the world. One thing which fascinated me was with people fighting for freedom of speech and for democratic rights, which I thought was vital in society. The beginning of these years took place at the same time as the Arab Spring in the Middle East, where an idealistic fervor for revolution was eventually swept away by civil wars, interventions, and returns to authoritarianism.
A year ago, I voted in my first presidential election. My impression was it was a battle of “bad meets evil” within the two major parties: one was not the most ideal candidate, but was a hundred times better than the other candidate, which epitomizes everything the voting base would hate. Who was “bad” and who was “evil” was dependent on how I’ve observed the rise of third parties, which provided their own solutions, but didn’t have or weren’t offered the limelight which they could be projected.
Of course, I was afraid of the results of the election—I tried to shut everything out when the results were coming in, and only found out from a friend messaging me at midnight. It pulled me into a certain realm of depth despair. If it wasn’t me bearing the brunt of the results personally, then it would be my family members, my friends, and everyone else in the world.
While I followed the news for a while prior to this election cycle, due to keeping up with my International Relations classes, I took an even keener eye towards the news. One interesting article in the New York Times, published after the election, documented what is potentially considered the “decline of democracy:” people have become more cynical about the voting process. Despite seeing liberalization in the 1990s, where Francis Fukuyama argued was “the end of history,” Freedom House reports on some countries which had higher scores before today. A surprising statistic was how fewer people today thought it was “essential” to live in a democracy, with the share of those wanting to live under military rule going up.
I also read a book by Timothy Snyder, titled “On Tyranny,” a short but sweet book published in the zeitgeist of turbulence after Trump’s election. The basic theme was that most of the citizens of the United States were just as naïve about the rise of authoritarianism as people who lived in Germany or Czechoslovakia did in the 20th century, making them more vulnerable to the establishment of a one-party state. The steps he provides, ranging from defending institutions to speaking up, were meant to prevent such a military take-over with none of the people’s consent.
Both works surprised me, as somebody who takes a democracy for granted. While I recognize most “democratic” nations are republican by nature, as they have representatives of the population creating laws on their behalf, I hold a romanticized view of representative democracy. I find it the most ideal form of government. In a best-case scenario, people with some experience would make the best laws for the majority.
Yet I’ve also learned about the whirlwind of issues which threaten such a system—from corporations giving money to political parties to alleged corruption to indifference in non-presidential elections in the United States. From a media which potentially focuses on “stories” rather than policy to voter suppression which seeks to reduce the number of votes overall. Looking into the future, one must find a way to tackle some of these questions before questions wondering about a new form of government.
When Benjamin Franklin was asked about what type of government the new United States would be, he responded with, “A republic, if you can keep it.” And that’s something to consider going into the future.