The Homework of Democracy
By G. Gregory Tooker
It is sad to have to put it in such blunt terms, but our democracy is on a slippery slope because of ignorance and apathy. In school, if you don’t do your homework, you predictably will choose the wrong answer when exams roll around. In politics, it works the same way.
Nurturing a democracy requires serious study. The elementary work begins at the local level. The correct “answers,” i.e., qualified candidates, must be carefully selected lest a bad seed germinate and take root. Problem is, many voters consider local elections too elementary and focus instead on the state and national contests. Voter turnout for local elections is abysmally low. Many an autocrat with dictatorial inclinations gained a foothold that was likely facilitated by supporters who failed to do their homework. This provided the gateway to an eventual stranglehold on democratic principles.
Voter apathy is understandable if our younger citizens are fed an educational diet deficient in knowledge needed to create informed, involved citizens. Often, civics classes at the elementary level are either absent or lack needed emphasis to get the job done. An understanding of how government works in a democracy, at all levels, should be one of the requirements for graduation. Teachers should encourage mock elections and motivate promising students with leadership qualities to consider a public career.
The midterm elections are rapidly approaching and the impact of the results could endanger our democracy if the electorate is not awakened to that possibility. When Ben Franklin left the hall in which the Constitutional Convention was held in 1787, he was asked, “What kind of government have you given us, Dr. Franklin?” His reply was, “A republic, if you can keep it.” That challenge has never been more apparent.