Opinion: Maintaining Our Democracy

Opinion: Maintaining Our Democracy

The most recent issue of the periodic publication of the Virginia Museum of History and Culture reminds us that it was 225 years ago that President George Washington gave his Farewell Address. Revered as president, Washington could have kept the job as long as he wanted. He was so beloved by the people of the country that he probably could have turned the presidency into a monarchy had he chosen to do so. Of all his accomplishments in getting our new country underway, the wisdom he imparted in his Farewell Address has to be among his greatest accomplishments. He decided on his own to step down after two terms thus setting a precedent that was followed with one exception until a constitutional amendment limited the terms an individual can serve. He left behind wisdom and insights that are as pertinent today as they were in his time.

Washington stated that “Respect for (the Constitution’s) authority, compliance with its Laws, acquiescence in its measures, are duties enjoined by the fundamental maxims of true Liberty.” He warned at length of “the dangers of (political) parties” and “the baneful effects” of the spirit of parties. He warned that the rise of political parties “agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection.”

Do his warnings sound all too familiar for today as they have at other times in our history? What would Washington have thought of today’s circumstances whereby a former president is being investigated for fomenting an insurrection to overturn the results of an election he clearly lost but by which he attempts with bogus claims and physical force to have himself declared the winner? The “false alarms” about which Washington warned us are rampant with social media and around the clock “news” programming spreading misinformation that is unfortunately undermining too many people’s faith in our system of government.

I am very pleased that there are many ways that technology can further our democracy by having more people involved. At the same time, it can be the method by which our democracy is undermined. 

Among the many emails I receive daily are concerns expressed by citizens that there be a forensic audit of the results of the last election. They have been taken in by the “big lie” repeated so often as to be seen as true by some. Never mind the thorough and careful ways that elections are conducted and the results are checked and rechecked. Not a scintilla of evidence has been found from investigations and court cases to support the allegations that fraud was involved. Not only are the repeated claims of fraud affecting citizens, but they affect persons in leadership positions who are unwilling to speak the truth or to take on the thugs who are trying to force a different result.

Washington offered this admonition to the citizenry: “The common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.”  

Our next opportunity to assume that responsibility comes by voting — early or on election day — Nov. 2.