Many of our readers survived the predations of fascism or communism; some endured both. It is probably safe to say these people do not take democracy for granted, as some of us who have been fortunate to live our entire lives under democratic governments may.
For many of us, Remembrance Day is one of the few times in the year when we stop and take stock of our good fortune and the sacrifices that made it possible. This year, we should perhaps give even more consideration to the fact, which we have mentioned in this space before, that democracy is a remarkably new and fragile thing. What we recognize as modern democracy is an American invention just 240 years old.
There have been concerning noises in the birthplace of democracy leading up to the close Tuesday of this ugliest of presidential election campaigns. In addition to Donald Trump’s threats to not abide by the democratic decision of the people because of some imaginary “rigging,” much of his rhetoric has seemed deliberately calculated to undermine democracy and its parallel values of pluralism and respect for diversity. Trump’s behavior and language – and the vitriol and violence he inspired and encouraged among his followers – are antithetical to American democracy.
We should not fall into the trap of comparative blame. This was probably the nastiest campaign in American history, but that is not something we can ascribe equally to both leading candidates and their followers.
Hillary Clinton ran a negative campaign, yes, but only within the comparatively gentle parameters of what has become conventional in American politics of the television age. Trump’s campaign, on the other hand, was a blast furnace of hatred, ridicule, dehumanization, lies, racism, sexism and incitement.
One of the most important pillars of democracy is also one of the most ephemeral: the confidence of the populace in the institutions of governance. And polls indicate that Americans currently have extraordinarily low opinions of their officials.
The American people – and the new president (who was declared after the Independent went to press) – have an unenviable task ahead of them in restoring confidence in the system, in their institutions and in their ability to advance as the world’s beacon of democracy.
For the sake of their country – and for the sake of the magnitude of impact it will have on the rest of the world – we should all wish for a period of reflection, healing and reconciliation.