25 Cents Worth of Democracy – Can America Endure?

By Mel Mann  


Talking about sweet reminiscences from some bygone time is not something I do much.  The past is seldom as rosy as we would like to remember. Additionally, selective memory is an interesting phenomena that helps us to forget the things we really don’t want to remember.   Maybe I am also suffering from the deception of rose colored glasses, but I remember our two political parties being much different 30-40 years ago than they are now.

Like most people, as a young adult politics was not high on my radar.  I did follow a little of the Watergate break in and resulting Nixon impeachment while in high school, but that was really only because my father wanted to talk about it.  I treasured those moments when my father treated me as a peer as opposed to a child, even if the subject really did not interest me.

On my 18th birthday I got called out of high school chemistry class to go to the office.  Being in some kind of trouble at that time in my life was really not that unusual, but this trip to the office did have me confused.  To enhance my concern even further, I found my father waiting in the office to check me out for the day.  Now I knew I had screwed up, I just didn’t know how or what. I was already smart enough to know that most of my transgressions do catch up with me, even if I still continued to bend rules into little knots.

It took me many more years to figure out that my father enjoyed manipulating people and situations and clearly this was one of those events.  Despite my never ending questions he was nearly silent for the 20 minute drive until we arrived at the public library a few blocks from downtown Portland.  Yes, the same Portland that has been in the news for a couple of months.  I got marched to a room off the main entry way where my father handed me a voter registration form.  I started breathing again realizing I wasn’t in trouble!  It was a short form to fill out, but it did ask me to select a political party.  I asked my father what his party was, I am sure he had mentioned it at some point but he did not tell me, insisting it is my choice. He did explain I could change my mind later, but this was clearly my decision to make.

After a spell of indecision my father lost patience and handed me a coin and I flipped for my party affiliation and thereby chose Republican. Surprisingly, I was told to keep the coin, a 1965 quarter which I still have to this day.  In our household there was no allowance, if you wanted money you had to go out and earn it.  If my father didn’t want the quarter back, this was a pivotal moment.

After registering to vote his demeanor lightened, and we went to a favorite deli to have pastrami Reuben’s which would become our prelude to an extended conversation about many things over the years.  In this outing we talked about the importance of voting and discussed political parties. 

My father had condensed the responsibility of voting with the same simplicity as “Pascal’s Wager”, if you don’t know it, look it up. Basically it came down to a few simple concepts:

  1. If you vote, your candidate loses and thing go bad you can say “I told you so”
  2. If you vote, your candidate loses and things go well you can say “I was wrong”
  3. If you vote, your candidate wins and things go well you can again say “I told you so”
  4. If you vote, your candidate wins and things go bad you can say “I was wrong”
  5. If you didn’t vote, shut up and move on and limit your complaints to baseball

My father emphasized the importance of George Washington’s transition of power to John Adams.  Just because you did not vote for him does not mean you can protest the election.  To protest the outcome of an election is to disrespect everyone else’s vote.  It is nice, but not important that everyone agrees with you.

It took 2-3 more lunches with my father assigning homework before I developed a basic understanding of the major political parties.  The Democrat’s seemed focused on protecting the down-trodden or little guy who might otherwise be left behind.  This aligns with their support of workers’ rights, public safety, safe working conditions and social safety nets.  These are noble causes that are worthy of a good fight.  I am totally respectful of anyone who champions these causes.  On the other side of the isle so to speak is the Republicans.  Their agenda is about protecting the Constitution and in particular the first 10 Amendments generally considered the “Bill of Rights”.  Additionally, there is a fundamental belief that prosperity comes to more people when business rather than government thrives. Again, a very noble set of causes to champion.

Those were the understandings I came to in 1975.  What was fascinating was that politicians respected each other’s agenda and generally negotiated a middle where both sets of ideals got something every time a major issue had to be negotiated politically. 2020 is definitely not the same as 1975.

We have moved to an era of extremism.  It is easy to say that extremism is something only seen in other parts of the globe, unfortunately it has planted itself in our modern government. There is no longer a respect for each other’s views. There is only “I’m right and you’re wrong!”  Along with this extremism is a heightened sense of ignorance and forgetting history.  The modern Democratic leadership seems to feel that many people are not capable of thinking for themselves, and need to be directed in the proper way to think and act.  I know there is an “ism” associated with this.  A few are very pro “socialism” despite the fact that it has been proven time and again across the globe not to work and untenable to pay for. With over 5000 years of documented histories of various societies it is clear there will always be some who win and some who lose.  Promising them all the same outcome takes the motivation away from the most ambitious whose efforts ultimately bear fruit for everyone else. Unfortunately, the modern Republican seems unwilling to accept the notion that left unchecked and regulated, businesses will create abuses and consolidate excessive power.  Somewhere, buried in this mess is the concept of “trickle-down economics.”  Just like Socialism, trickle-down economics is great on paper, but does not really work as well as hoped in application. While some funds are released for growth, others stay planted effectively consolidating wealth.

America is a grand social and economic experiment.  Since our inception, many countries across the globe have also implemented democracies inspired by our example.  That does not mean we have all the kinks worked out.  As social, economic and global issues evolve, a representative government needs to adjust.  In this spirit a democratic form of government is never perfect, but can only really work as long as there is respect for the value of the other person’s view. Then needed changes can happen.  Winston Churchill in 1947 said “…democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time…”

I would like to believe that America can endure the age of extremism and eventually move beyond it. I would like to think I have been saving that quarter all these years as a symbol of personally joining our democratic and electoral process. It was unique that my father did not ask for the quarter back. I have never missed an election regardless of my living situation. At the time I set the quarter aside it could buy a drink and a donut at most diners, but meant more to me. Maybe the only thing I have to show for saving that quarter is that it and a handful of its brothers might get a candy bar out of a vending machine.

Mel Mann currently works as a software developer as well as dappling in playing the blue grass banjo.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Citizens Journal

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Mike Smith

America is a REPUBLIC, not a Democracy.

William Hicks

A great memory worth sharing with everyone. All historically correct EXCEPT, Nixon was not impeached….he resigned saving the nation the embarrassment that was his alone.