As I have reflected on the nastiness of our recent election and the problems in our form of government, I have pondered the question of how a healthy democracy should function. Watching the election of 2016 unfold with horror, it was obvious that there are many problems. The question is what are these problems and how do we fix them? It seems like a necessary starting point is the question of what constitutes a healthy democracy.
In a healthy democracy, it seems to me, issues would be decided by a process of investigation, debate and compromise. We would investigate to empirically determine what works by running smaller scale programs at the state and local level. We would debate various issues attempting to persuade those on the other side of the merits of our position. We would compromise on issues that were important to us in order to fix problems of immediate concern.
One of the great virtues of this process is that it is empirically driven. Approaches that work are made to validate themselves before they are made the law of the land. Approaches that are not effective will fail and have to be modified. Naive assumptions about the nature of reality on both sides would be challenged and our understanding of our world would be greatly improved.
I can well remember, for example, how shocked I was as a young Christian that liberal European drug treatment programs were more effective at reducing drug addiction than the punitive approaches taken by the United States. How could that be if God’s law prescribed a punitive approach to these kinds of infractions? This shock led me to think about what Paul says about God’s law increasing transgression in Romans as I discuss in my post, “The Problem with Divine Law“.
In just this same way, the naive liberal assumptions about the goodness of human nature which blocked welfare reform for decades would have been challenged by an empirical approach. I well remember a liberal telling me in a debate over Clinton’s welfare reform, “Nobody would ever stay at home and take welfare if they had the opportunity to have the dignity and purpose that comes with having a job.” Do I have to say that this man had a job as a corporate executive and not as a burger flipper at the local McDonalds?
Debate and compromise are also essential components of the democratic process. Can anyone really argue that the “bribe the special interests so that their lobbyists will help you pass legislation” approach taken to passing government legislation is an effective way to govern? This approach was illustrated by Barack Obama when he passed the Affordable Care Act and it has been used by every president on every issue for decades. It virtually guarantees inefficiency and corruption and can only lead our country to bankruptcy and ruin.
Unfortunately, investigation, debate and compromise have virtually no place in our current government. Instead we have a binary, red/blue, two party system where issues that have almost nothing to do with each other are used to divide people into two gigantic masses that use propaganda to demonize the other side. The inevitable result is corruption, inefficiency, division and nasty elections like the one we just had.