Quite simply, “democracy” is ruled by the people. And although the definition of “people” has become more inclusive over the millennia and across the geography of the world, it remains true that government by the people must always originate at the local level and must be accountable, ultimately, at local level.
Whether there are twenty-five centuries of democracy in Athens or in the 21stst century in North America, the basis of people’s power is the vote, either directly or through a system of representation. Most governments are built on a combination of the two.
As an unaffiliated and elected voter, I often reflect on the warning George Washington gave his fellow citizens in 1796 about the impact of political parties on democracy.
However [political parties] may from time to time meet popular ends, they are likely, in the course of time and things, to become powerful engines, thanks to which cunning, ambitious and unscrupulous men can subvert the power of the people and appropriate the reins of government, then destroying the very engines that raised them to unjust dominance.
In particular, I believe that a two-party system like the de facto structure in the United States frequently creates false choices and groupings of choices that do not reflect reality or the true feelings of the electorate. In times of heightened tension, when political clamor is likely to escalate, voters often feel the need to tailor their beliefs to a party’s platform rather than tailor the party’s platform to their convictions.
It is of no use to us at any time. The ridiculous partisanship it has generated recently threatens to undermine our civil society and our ability to effectively leverage our vast wealth and resources for the good of humanity.
I believe that the two-party system in the United States is a frequent obstacle to democracy and, perhaps more importantly, to rational progress. It seems to politicize every challenge we face and tie any proposed solution to an unrelated set of policies and positions that distort reality and hinder government accountability. The inability of a two-party system to foster broad debate and innovative thinking limits our potential as a people and as individuals. Democracy becomes both less efficient and more vulnerable to demagoguery.
Although there is a lot of partisan passion among the local electorate, the happy fact is that most issues and decisions facing local governments require pragmatism and compromise. In the case of the Chaffee County Board of Commissioners, the appearance of balance provided by a Republican, a Democrat and an unaffiliated commissioner working together only obscures the reality that the political platforms of our national parties do not have much bearing on most local decisions. we face.
Moreover, when our discussion seems “partisan”, it is more often a manifestation of the cultural elements associated with belonging to one of the parties than the actual expression of a political element of a platform. -form of party. Disputes are not enough at the local level. A lucid discussion of benefits, impacts and equity is what the local electorate expects.
The growing unaffiliated electorate, currently 46 percent of Chaffee County voters, has a surge in electing candidates for state and national office. The Democratic and Republican parties are more invested in bipartisanship than in true representative democracy. They have outsized influence over campaign and election rules and have set up campaign finance structures that bypass ordinary people in favor of corporations and the wealthy.
Restoring a nationally recognizable democracy and safeguarding its future is essential to continuing the great American experiment. But don’t look to Washington, DC for that momentum. It will only come from the local level, from the base. This is where politics is truly grounded in reality and this is where rational political discussion always guides decision-making into the light.
Chairman, Chaffe Board of County Commissioners and Chairman of the Chaffee County Board of Health
This story is part of the Democracy Day journalism collaboration in which Voice of the Valley of the Ark is participating. It is a nationwide effort to highlight the threats and opportunities facing American democracy. Learn more at usdemocracyday.org.