by Mark Harvey
Where I live in Colorado there are unstable elements of the landscape that sometimes fail. In severe cases, millions of tons of rock, silt, sand, and mud can shift, leading to massive landslides. The signs aren’t always evident because the breakdown in the structural geology often happens quietly underground. The invisible changes can take hundreds or thousands of years, but when a landslide takes place, it is fast and violent. And the new landscape that comes after is unrecognizable.
Democracies, like landscapes, take time to erode and the erosion isn’t always obvious to those living within its structure. Seemingly small things like villainizing the press, vicious attacks on political candidates, gerrymandering districts, voter suppression, and allowing vast amounts of money to enter the campaign process are all erosive forces that, taken individually, don’t seem like much. But taken together, over time, they break down democracies and invite darker forms of government.
When you start to speak about democracy in this country, it can get wispy and abstract in a hurry. Most of us were taught about democracy as school children in breathless, fabled terms. It’s hard to get past the myths of our founders and our founding to consider both how young and how clunky our democracy really is. For perspective, the oldest tree in the country is a bristlecone pine named Methuselah that sits in eastern California and had its beginning as a seed over 4,000 years before the convention in Philadelphia that hot summer of 1787. We think of our democracy as about 230 years old from the time when the Constitution was signed and George Washington first took office. But it’s only been 156 years since African Americans were freed and only about 100 years since women were guaranteed the right to vote by the Nineteenth Amendment. So our true democracy, at least on paper, is really only about 100 years old, closer to the lifespan of a cottonwood tree. And yet just 100 years into it, since the day when everyone was theoretically given the right to vote, things in the United States are wobbling and teetering. Read more »