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Doing American democracy is challenging.
So, the better we understand how it really works, the better we can understand the difficulties of American politics.
Many of us mistakenly believe that money and corruption are responsible for all of our political problems. Even if the USA was without political or economic corruption and racism and bigotry, American citizens would face formidable challenges. Not everyone would immediately see eye to eye on religious differences and economic and political policies.
There are three tools of democracy we must learn, perfect and employ: pluralism, compromise-consensus building, and pragmatism.
Pluralism: What is pluralism and why is it important in American democracy?
Democracy demands that we respect each other. Its premise is: every human being should be given the opportunity to represent his or her interests in a political community. In fact, the etymology of the word “democracy” makes the case for us. “Demo” means people, and “cracy” stands for power—together in layman’s terms, democracy means power to the people. That means everybody should have a share in political power.
But we can’t stop there. American people are comprised of groups with different cultures, religions, political ideologies, values, opinions, and tastes. We have to come to terms with the variety of perspectives and interests that American people have. We have to find the right political balance to accommodate and respect the various belief systems in our country.
That is the heart of pluralism—accepting the fact that people residing in a single community are born into and live by different principles. Pluralism holds that we ought to allow various interests to speak for themselves and to live according to their values.
However, there are obvious limits to the respect and tolerance we should have for each other. And, there are subtle limits that are more difficult to foresee or negotiate. The bottom line is that we should aim to make space for people to live their truths and find their happiness, as long as they don’t harm us.
To be sure, there are no perfect solutions to please everyone. That is why we must find or create common ground to embrace our differences. If we don’t, then our conflicts will obstruct opportunities for a rich, shared human experience and, worse, lead to violence.
Employing pluralism, we can agree to disagree. That is, we agree to negotiate our terms while respecting each other’s values and interests as much as possible. And soon we’ll construct a path to our next point—building a consensus with compromising.
Consensus and Compromising: Why is aiming for a consensus and compromising important?
Building a consensus is a moral instrument used to decide which action to make among people who may have different opinions. Attempting to make a decision based on a consensus means giving the members involved in a particular matter an opportunity to express their discontent and subsequently influence the overall decision.
This scenario leads to a juicy debate.
People with different interests and values will inevitably disagree with one another. However, if we aim to find a larger field of interest that embraces our well-being, then our chances at finding opportunities to accommodate each other increase.
This is when the risky, yet, indispensable art of compromising enters.
First, we need to be clear about the pitfalls in the process of creating a consensus. Building a consensus appeals to the majority rules strategy. The danger is that we must never forget that having a larger number of people to advocate any particular action over another does not guarantee that the decision itself is necessarily correct. Let us not forget that the horrors of legalized slavery and Nazism were instituted by a majority with ill intentions and no regard for human life.
The assumption in the process of consensus building in a true democracy is that people are sincere, truthful and capable of understanding the problem for which they are providing solutions. And, that no solution will transgress the another person’s human and civil rights. With these measures in place, the expectation is that sooner or later the correct or best ideas will become clear to more and more people as we debate with reason and compassion for humanity.
So, in short, consensus building in the context of human rights is the act of trying to persuade and win someone over fairly.
To fairly build a consensus among various interest groups, we have to compromise.
That means we have to make an effort to manage our desires in such a way that we all benefit. It means trying to do the best for our fellow citizens in the best way we can by finding the course of action with the most utility for the whole, while compensating for those of us who momentarily bear the brunt of the stick.
The tough part is how to compromise.
Pragmatism: What is the significance of pragmatism and how does it help us build a consensus and compromise?
Now let’s talk about the final piece to our puzzle—pragmatism.
Pragmatism is significant because it helps work within a pluralist democracy and fulfill a consensus by means of compromising. Pragmatism speaks to the means of developing a consensus. And it speaks to what the end of a consensus should look like. It should be full of compromising. Yes, that’s going to be tough for a lot us to embrace.
First, there are some issues that are non-negotiable for us. And we should not outright force people to do anything that they don’t stand for. However, in a modern democracy we are have developed a process of negotiation in which we consent to be governed by the laws we negotiate. That’s the purpose of having a Congress, President and a Supreme Court—to negotiate the laws that protect the various interests of groups and individuals, all the while taking care of our entire union.
Pragmatism is a useful tool to help us bargain with each other in our complex American society. There are no perfect solutions to our social, political economic problems. Capitalism, socialism, libertarianism, democratic or republican policies individually are not adequate solutions. Pragmatists recommend that we develop a “culture of inquiry” rather than of “culture of fixed truths.” Thinking creatively and interactively will take help us discover unique and mutually beneficial truths in a way that our “proclamations of dogma” can. (Quotes from James T. Kloppenberg, Reading Obama: Dreams, Hope, and the American Political Tradition, 2011)
The point is that we are in a society where people have differences in opinion about what should be done, and our attempts to fulfill our individual agendas should work within a system of negotiation, which consists of debate and the ability to show the pros and cons of various choices.
Let’s do American democracy!
The three concepts I discussed here will be forever indispensable to the success of American democracy. In fact, any human society will benefit from them. Doing democracy requires us to respect other people cultures, be willing to compromise to find common ground by means of critical thinking and compassion.
Again, this can only work if we agree to disagree in order to improve our understanding of why we disagree.
Let’s do American democracy better!