Will democracy in America survive?

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Will democracy in America survive?

August 16, 2022 - Steve Yount

American flag flying during a rain storm © soupstock/stock.adobe.com

American flag flying during a rain storm © soupstock/stock.adobe.com

Although the mob left the US Capitol long ago, democracy remains under siege.

“I believe that our nation stands on the edge of an abyss,” Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming said in the midst of her work as vice chair of the House committee investigating the insurrection of Jan. 6, 2021.

Former President Donald Trump seems to agree, although obviously for different reasons. “These are dark times for our Nation,” he said after the FBI executed a search warrant at his Mar-a-Lago home in Palm Beach, Florida.

Recent polls have indicated that Americans share their concern: Roughly half believe our system of government may face extinction.

“We found that Americans are losing faith in their democracy, arguably worse than ever before,” Carly Cooperman of Schoen Cooperman Research told the New York Post. “They’re losing faith in elections, institutions, and the ability of democracy to survive. Everything is negative.”

But Christians can help alleviate this widespread feeling of impending doom just by being good citizens in an era of partisan strife. As Dr. Tony Evans, the author of Kingdom Politics, would say, our first allegiance should be to God, not to a political party.

Is America still “the beacon of the world”?

But the Bible also tells us that we should be subject to the governing authorities (Romans 13:1) and concerned about others, not just ourselves (Philippians 2:4). The philosophy of nonviolent protest espoused by civil rights icons Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and John Lewis provides a biblical model of working for social change.

Although the Bible never mentions democracy, its bedrock principles of freedom and equality have deep roots in Scripture.

“We serve a living God who wants us to honor each other because we are made in His image,” Wheaton College professor David Iglesias said in an email interview with Denison Forum. “Representative democracy honors human rights. This idea of Imago Dei (made in the image of God) is what makes America the beacon of the world.”

Garry Kasparov, a chess grandmaster from the former Soviet Union who serves as chairman of the Human Rights Foundation in New York, said the Schoen Cooperman poll revealed how easily Americans seem willing to give up on democracy.

“Americans’ lack of appreciation for the greatness, yes greatness, of America and American democracy is the underlying condition here,” Kasparov said in an interview with the Post.

“It’s not just MAGA, but the far left as well, saying that the system doesn’t work, that it’s always been broken and that it’s irreparable. Instead of trying to fix it, to improve it, which has always been the strength of the US system, they act as though it’s not worth saving.”

Iglesias, the director of Wheaton’s Center for Faith, Politics and Economics and a former US attorney, believes that many Americans don’t realize how good they have it, with living conditions that are the envy of most of the world. Iglesias largely blames the news media for dwelling on the negative.

“In virtually every important category, this is the best time in human history to be alive,” he said. “But you’d never know it if you stay glued to your screens and marinate in their pessimism.”

Why is political violence in the US intensifying?

Surveys taken in recent years show a disturbing degree of support for political violence in the US, although political scientists disagree on how widespread the support is.

FBI Director Christopher Wray testified this month before the Senate Judiciary Committee about the growing threat.

“I feel like every day I’m getting briefed on somebody throwing a Molotov cocktail at someone for some issue,” he said. “It’s crazy.”

Wray said there has been an “uptick” in violence related to abortion since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June. After a draft of the opinion leaked to the news media, police arrested a man near Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s home with a gun and a knife, allegedly planning to break into his home and kill him.

After the search at Mar-a-Lago, government agencies issued a bulletin warning of a spike in threats to federal law-enforcement officials, including a man trying to breach the FBI’s Cincinnati field office. CBS reported that the bulletin mentioned “a threat to place a so-called dirty bomb in front of FBI Headquarters and . . . general calls for ‘civil war’ and ‘armed rebellion.’”

The 2020 presidential election has been another flashpoint, with threats against election officials across the country.

There’s violence in the future, I’m going to tell you,” Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois told ABC.

Kinzinger, one of two Republicans on the House committee investigating the insurrection, and his family received a death threat in the mail at their home.

“We got it a couple of days ago, and it threatens to execute me, as well as my wife and 5-month-old child,” he said in June.

The National Terrorism Advisory System, part of the Department of Homeland Security, issued a bulletin in June, saying that the United States will remain in a “heightened threat environment” until the end of November. The bulletin listed a wide variety of threats but specifically noted “calls for violence by domestic violent extremists” heading into the midterm elections.

“Sleepwalking to disaster”

Washington Post columnist Max Boot, a Trump critic who has supported Republicans in the past, urges Americans to take threats to our democracy seriously.

“We seem to be sleepwalking to disaster,” he wrote. “If we don’t wake up in time, we could lose our democracy. Just because we’ve avoided a breakdown in the past doesn’t mean we will stave it off in the future.”

Eric Liu, a speechwriter in the Clinton White House, expresses optimism that democracy will experience a rebirth in this country, much as it did during the Civil Rights Movement. But, as the CEO of Citizen University, he also sees a need to promote civic engagement.

“We have been taught over the course of a generation to be spectators, to be consumers, to watch, to critique what we see,” he told NPR. “But we have forgotten how to be participants. We’ve forgotten how to be people who shape the world around us and shape even the community around us.”

Iglesias, the Wheaton professor, believes representative democracy is superior to every other system of government. “We Americans want easy, but democracy is not easy,” he said. “It takes work, time, and compromise.”

In one of the most famous passages in the Bible, part of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9 NIV). If Christians would take that message to heart, they can be a shining example to their fellow citizens during these dark days for democracy.

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