The founding of America was a grand experiment in governance. Not since ancient Greece had a nation attempted to give power to the people through a system called “democracy.” Previously, mankind had acknowledged that the rabble had to be kept in check, that societies needed a “strong ruler.”
The ruler was chosen by various means, from casting lots to physical combat – and later heredity. Occasionally the system worked. But more often, it led to disaster.
In Jamaican schools the history we learned was mostly British. We read that when the Romans invaded Britain, half a century before the birth of Christ, the Britons were ruled by a queen. The British have had monarchs ever since (with the exception of Oliver Cromwell, who was as despotic as they come). In my history books the “good” rulers were the ones described as “strong.” The bad ones were always “weak.” Some of the worst periods were marked by barons rivaling the power of the sovereign.
It seems to me that the founding of a democratic America changed the world’s thinking. The American colonists’ success helped inspire the French Revolution for example. Historians began to see “good” government as populist government. The welfare of the population became at least as important as the military triumphs of their country. When I was a child, we sang “Rule Britannia,” and we praised Queen Victoria for setting Jamaicans free. But with the arrival of Alexander Bustamante (and his cousin Norman Manley), the workers became the politicians’ power base, and – for better or for worse – it was the people who determined the country’s future path from then on.
Now, America’s grand experiment is in danger. While the mother of all democracies preaches democracy to the rest of the world, the system appears to be failing at home. As the chasm between rich and poor widens in America, the dispossessed are taking to the streets and are being met with jackboot fascism. The moneyed class is showing the same kind of arrogance as the Mideast dictators. Even as America admonished Syria (and bombed Libya), American police were exhibiting the same kind of repressive response – though admittedly far less extreme – to American protesters.
And while the American media mock Third World nations for their pervasive corruption, the American Supreme Court has unleashed a torrent of corporate cash to pervert the American election process.
I am sure the irony of this is not lost on thinking people around the world.
But there is even more cause for alarm.
The American people seem to have lost their will to rule themselves. According to the polls, they see merit in the elitism expressed by Republican leaders. They see value in mountebanks like Herman Cain and mannequins like Mitt Romney – transparent front men for a diabolical elite. And they are blind to the multitude of “dirty tricks” that Republicans are using to sabotage the country and subvert the society.
With the Republicans in power, America would be a democracy in name only. The party’s leaders would serve the interests of an enormously powerful elite, with no regard for the welfare of the people. In effect, the elite will be like sovereigns of old – absolute rulers.
It is maddening that so many voters seem unaware of this danger, that they are distracted by the imagined “personhood” of a fertilized cell, or the definition of marriage, or the “horrors” of illegal immigration, or the threat of Shariah Law… or some other peripheral concern.
Without an informed populace, democracy cannot prevail. And America’s grand experiment must fail.