How The American Experiment In Democracy Has Played Out

The American experiment in democracy has to be one of the most mixed up social experiments of all times. Even though some of the founding fathers owned slaves they were not enthusiastic slave owners to be sure, and knew that for democracy to work at some point slavery would have to go away. At heart the designers of our government were devotees of the French enlightenment. They were progressive idealists of the ruling class. They wanted freedom for the people, yet they feared the mob (like the mindless populists loving types that flock to Trump) — all of it a mass of contradictory factors.

How much they considered that common men of small intellect were at the mercy of their hardwired tribal impulse is hard to tell, an impulse that is stubbornly contrary to the requirements of a democracy. As a group they likely knew more about what they didn’t want than what they did want. They mostly definitely didn’t want an inherited monarchy — no king please.

After weeks of sometimes bitter wrangling they realized that perfection of purpose was impossible, that their vague goal of general freedom for the people had to start somewhere, and so they set aside the monstrous elephant in the room, slavery, (kicking the can down the road) and independence was declared. In other words they said oh what the heck and jumped into the pool of events, gambling their lives to the possibility of being hung as traders if their bold wager failed.

And of course we know how this somewhat irrational experiment in democracy has worked out to date. With luck and lots of French help the Americans held on against the British, the ultimate military and economic power of that day, much like the Vietnamese did against first the French colonials and then the Americans who both eventually considered the struggle of war not worth the cost and went home.

But then, once it seemed that independence from England was assured, building sectional tensions centered upon slavery became ever hotter until the Southern slave states, like falling dominos, declared their separation (secession) from the Union, triggering civil war, which the much more industrialized and populous North prevailed to win, but not before the greatest military bloodbath ever for America had run its course.

Technically the slavery issue was fixed by war, but it was merely a cosmetic fix. Slavery was eventual replaced in the South, and slightly so in the North, by Jim Crow suppression laws against people of color. This abomination was countered by the civil rights movement of the 1960s and continues even today against tribal inspired discrimination, a tribal discrimination that has been given new life via the alt-right Trump administration.

The bottom line is that over the last two hundred plus years America has at once been the most idealistic and the most repressive nation on earth. It has fought and died by the many tens of thousands to defeat Nazi hatred and death only to at times feed such evil ways at home.

Thus the question remains, can a multicultural democracy overcome nature’s tribal impulse in order to indefinitely survive in the real world, a compulsion that pushes like kinds to want to cling together for mutual advantage and oppose the “other,” sometimes brutally so? That, my friends, is problematic at best.

Jim Ridgway, Jr. military writer — author of the American Civil War classic, “Apprentice Killers: The War of Lincoln and Davis.” Christmas gift, yes!

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