What is Democracy?
Atlanta Civic Circle asked Georgians of various generations and political beliefs that question. Here’s what they had to say:
THE SILENT GENERATION
Born between 1928 and 1945. Currently between 76 and 93 years old. Defining Moments: McCarthyism, Cold War. Total in the United States: 23 million.
What’s your take on American democracy: “That’s a question that has an interesting answer because sometimes we think about democracy in its purest form — In a sense that it’s majority rule and everybody gets to say what they want to say. In reality, democracy is more of a process quite frankly and is one that you have to be very careful of because a democracy can lead to bad consequences for the [people in the] minority.
One thinks about the majority rule in a utopian sense, but that sometimes means that the minority are sometimes shut out. That means they are not allowed to participate in what is called “democracy.” As a political scientist, I would say that it’s not a straightforward kind of thing. America is not really a democracy, it’s a republic that moves more towards democracy. I think what really comes to mind right away and people can relate to is the fact that the American president is not elected by the majority of the voters, but by the electoral college which can represent a minority of voters. But it doesn’t make it any less legitimate in the eyes of folks because they accepted that as a part of their move towards democratization. It’s really kind of a paradox.”
What’s your take on American democracy: “We’re facing an unprecedented challenge because of former President Donald Trump’s unwillingness to accept the outcome of the ballot box. If people don’t accept the results of elections, then why would you live by the returns? If you don’t think the electoral system works then, you know, that completely pulls the rug out from under the whole basis of democracy.”
THE BABY BOOMERS
Born between 1946 and 1964. Currently between 57 and 75 years old. Defining moments: Vietnam War, Assassinations of Pres. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr. and Sen. Robert Kennedy, Watergate. Total: 71.6 million.
What is your take on American democracy: “Democracy is trouble. It’s intended to be trouble. The framers of the Constitution were very clear. They were nervous about direct democracy because, as Hamilton wrote in Federalist 1: ‘History will teach us that…of those men who have overturned the liberties of republics, the greatest number have begun their career by paying obsequious court to the people.’
Madison wrote in Federalist 10, ‘Men of factious tempers, of local prejudices, or of sinister designs, may, by intrigue, by corruption, or by other means, first, obtain the suffrages, and then betray the interests of the people.’ Democratic principles, with people voting for representatives, made sense to them, but not a system in which people have direct control of policies. Of course, who would choose those representatives (Women? People of color? Gerrymandered districts?) was an entirely different set of issues. There will always be tension between voting processes and policy, but our history suggests that it’s better to err on the side of too much democracy than the alternative.”
What’s your take on American democracy: “There is no pure democracy in our country. We have a Republican Democracy. We elect people to represent us. I don’t think anybody’s happy with the way the federal government’s being administered. There’s a slew of problems. Serious problems. Are they going to take us off the cliff? I don’t know but unfortunately, they have an abundance of power in the bureaucracy.
The key thing is you have a bureaucracy running the federal government, not the elected officials.”
What is your take on American democracy: “We are at a crossroads – the most significant national one, I believe, in my lifetime. Are we going to vote as followers of a certain party – no matter what it does or doesn’t do – or are we going to swallow, be the greater humans, and see where the best ideas are, regardless of party source? Then are we going to do what’s right for our
fellow citizens, in actions that are deeper than a “like” on a meme? If we continue to remain partisan always, without exception, now and in the future, our nation’s democratic tradition – at least in a historic sense – is doomed.”
What is your take on American democracy: “I’m less confident in Democracy. Democracy only works if you’ve got something working for the best interest of the people. All factions involved have to be working in the best interest of the people and we don’t have that here. Republicans and Democrats are too invested in wielding power over the other party and they’ve lost sight of what the people really need. Both parties are feeding into the extreme factions within their parties.”
GENERATION X (Gen Xers)
Born between 1965 and 1980. Currently between 41 and 56 years old. Defining moments: Fall of Berlin Wall, End of Cold War, AIDS, MTV. Total: 65.2 million.
What is your take on American democracy: “Full citizenship, ownership, and responsibility. When eligible people understand that full citizenship and the responsibility of electing and being civically engaged in all aspects of the democratic process, then the government the people want, the people will get. Yet, when engagement is sporadic, there is no consistency, which allows for a small minority of people to shape
government and governmental systems in the manner that is most amenable for that small group of people.”
What is your take on American democracy: “When politicians are more focused on getting elected than affecting change, it is difficult to feel like we are living in a “by the people, for the people” democracy. As others have famously said, democracy is a great experiment. When it works, nations thrive and opportunity is plentiful. When it doesn’t, power stays in the hands of the few, corporations skirt taxes, and billionaires in cowboy hats scream “Hell Yes” on their way to outer space.”
MILLENNIALS (Gen Y)
Born between 1980 and 1996. Currently between the ages of 25 and 41 years old. Defining Moments: 9/11, Obama election, Great Recession, Globalization of the Internet. Total: 72.1 million.
What’s your take on American democracy: “When I look at democracy I think of ‘For The People.’ People have the right to choose. It seems better that way. This is a diverse country now. There’s a lot of different backgrounds now. People have the right to say what they feel and choose what they want. (But) Different areas of people’s lives are still run by the government.
At the end of the day, I honestly think the conservatives are being tested. I’m glad I have a better understanding of democracy and how it works. I’m glad I looked into each and every political viewpoint before deciding what I wanted to be. I think democracy works. It still holds up even though it’s being tested right now.”
What’s your take on American democracy: “Democracy means having a right to make sure that your voice is heard. I see it as freedom and the responsibilities that come with that freedom: the responsibility to be educated and informed; the responsibility to vote; the responsibility to give back to the community; the responsibility to listen openly to opposing points of view and learn from them;
and the responsibility to participate respectfully in the democratic process. It’s a way of living and working together based on freedom, equality, justice, and mutual respect.”
What’s your take on American democracy: “Democracy is a foundational principle of this country. Although the foundation has been tested for over two centuries, democracy still stands strong and plays a pivotal role in American society.”
What’s your take on American democracy: “Democracy is still the best form of government that we have come up with thus far. We often fail to execute it well but its potential remains enormous.”
What’s your take on American democracy: “Increased stratification among the left gives us very little power, ceding the most obvious issues to the right. We are moving further away from material issues and more into niche problems that the working class cannot relate to, and even more so cannot see any benefit in. This leaves the populist line of messaging open for the right to exploit as they
historically have, our working class can no longer a future where the fractured left could even tangibly change their lives for the better.”
GENERATION Z (Gen Zers)
Born between 1997 and 2012. Between nine and 24 years old. Defining moments: Terrorism, Trump, YouTube, Same-sex marriage. More racially and ethnically diverse than previous generations, Zoomers are set to be the most well-educated generation yet, according to Pew Research Center. Total: 68 million.
What’s your take on American democracy: “Often people who talk more do less for their community. So at this point, I just don’t trust people selling whatever is their own personal snake oil. Don’t get your political ideology from the internet.”
What’s your take on American democracy: “Democracy in America has ultimately been undermined by corporations and corrupted politicians on both sides.”
What’s your take on American democracy: “It’s extremely important. It’s a way to use our voice in order to impact the decisions that directly affect us. I’m not very confident about democracy right now. Democracy is flawed with all of the voter suppression efforts. I feel like local political leaders who are in power are trying to silence our voices, especially in Republican-led states like Texas and Georgia.”
– Brandon Franklin contributed to this article.