Updated: Jul 6, 2019
As a soldier, I wear armor to protect me from outside threats that could kill me quickly. And, as a cancer survivor, I understand that there are subtle threats from within my body that could slay me slowly. Like a soldier, our democracy protects itself from outer threats by wearing the armor of national security and diplomacy. And, like my cancer, there are subtle (and obvious) threats that are slowly killing our democracy from within.
In 2006, the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) published their first democracy index, a ranking of the world’s democracies based on 60 indicators in five categories: electoral process and pluralism, functioning of government, political participation, democratic political culture and civil liberties. For that first index, the United States was ranked 17th in the world and labeled a “full democracy.” In 2014, the United States’ democracy was ranked nineteenth. In 2016, it was twenty-first. In 2018, the United States’ democracy was ranked twenty-fifth and labeled a “flawed democracy.” In other words, according to EIU’s standards, our democracy is declining and has been for years.
As a soldier, I swore to defend the United States against “all enemies, foreign and domestic.” So, besides serving in the military to defend against foreign enemies, I feel compelled to also help fight our democracy’s domestic illnesses that I think are killing us from within.
I am not a doctor, so I hired one who specialized in the health of republics, AKA “Doctor Democracy.” This doctor was first hired by the Founding Fathers after the Constitutional Convention in 1787 to give regular checkups to our young republic. But, as our country grew in size and strength throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, especially after the fall of the Soviet Union, we began to feel immortal and no longer thought we needed to receive regular checkups. So, gradually, our republic began to avoid Doctor Democracy until finally we stopped seeing the doctor. No longer employed by the United States, Doctor Democracy was hired by other countries, mostly democracies who now outrank ours.
Before assessing our democracy’s health, Doctor Democracy explained the different parts of our democracy’s body.
As in humans, so also our democracy’s body has many systems.
1. The skeletal system of our democracy is the constitution, which provides the bone structure that gives the body of our democracy its form, the ligaments and cartilage that holds the democracy together, and the fluid that lubricates the joints.
2. Our nervous system, which collects and processes information from the senses and sends messages to the body, is the first amendment: the freedom of religion, speech, press, information, assembly and petition.
3. The digestive system breaks down food so nutrients can be absorbed and eliminates solid waste. The excretory system filters fluids. In our democracy these systems are how we separate the true from the false. A healthy democracy does this through reason and science. The digestive system brings in the food and water of democracy, the information that the nervous system allows. Then, the digestive and excretory systems of reason and science separate the nutrients (truth) from the waste (the false), and absorb the truth and eliminate the false.
4. Our exocrine system, the glands that produce and secrete substances that lubricate the body, is a culture of compromise. Lubrication keeps the body moving efficiently. Likewise, a culture of compromise between different groups keeps a healthy democracy’s progress moving forward. This culture of compromise is also the fluid that lubricates the joints, helping the constitution maintain a wide range of movement so it is adaptable to each generation.
5. Elections represent the respiratory system. The constitution gives our democracy its form and holds the body together, but it is elections that breathe life into our democracy. As the human body must regularly breathe, so also free and fair elections should be regular.
6. The people are the circulatory system. The citizens who participate in elections and civil society are the heart, arteries and veins that carry the blood of democracy. Indeed, the people are the blood of democracy itself.
7. The muscular system is represented by the elected officials in the executive and legislative branches that perform the work of government, and the system of federalism that spreads responsibility among the national, state and local governments, ensuring all muscle groups are strong.
8. The immune system is the rule of law. Sickness may enter the body, but a healthy democracy’s rule of law continuously builds resistance to fight any illness by creating new laws, eliminating or altering bad laws, and enforcing laws.
9. The endocrine system, which provides hormonal stability, is the system of checks and balances. Separate and shared powers give different branches of government the authority to check the powers of each other, maintaining balance in our democracy.
10. The reproductive system is the American dream, which is the idea that all citizens have the same fundamental rights. So – regardless of gender, race or family name – through talent, hard work and chance we can achieve our dreams. The American dream has led many countries to reproduce what we have, many countries that now outrank our democracy.
Freedom’s Fitness Center
To assess the health of our democracy, the doctor took me to Freedom’s Fitness Center, a gym for the mind that Doctor Democracy helped our Founding Fathers create for our republic to use to maintain good intellectual health. The Founding Fathers built this gym across the road from the Graveyard of Governments so that our country would have a constant reminder of what could happen if we did not take care of our republic’s health.
The road between the graveyard and the gym was currently named “Republican Road.” Doctor Democracy explained that from January 2009 to January 2017 the road was named “Democrat Drive,” but the road’s original name was “Reason’s Road.” Shortly after the last Founding Father died, the tradition began of naming the road after whichever party was in the White House.
I confess, before walking into the gym, I tried to reserve a plot in the Graveyard of Governments because I thought Doctor Democracy would be giving a grim prognosis. The reason I didn’t was because some of the Founding Fathers had already reserved a spot, pessimistically thinking their new country would have a short life. The tombstone marking our plot read “Republic of the United States: 1789 –”. It was surrounded by dead republics, ancient Greece and Rome on either side of it and Carthage behind it.
Above the front door of Freedom’s Fitness Center was the quote:
“If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, they want what never was and never will be.” -Thomas Jefferson
We then walked into the gym. The stench was strong, but not as pungent as I thought it should have been if our democracy was intellectually pushing itself. There were 100 people in the gym, a microcosm of the electorate of our entire country’s voting population (230 million). All 100 stopped and looked at us, mainly at Doctor Democracy who stood out in scrubs. It seemed like some of the 100 who were older recognized Doctor Democracy from the last time the doctor was in the gym in the early nineties.
Out of the one hundred, 25 people were republicans, all wearing t-shirts with a red elephant on the chest, and 30 were democrats, all wearing t-shirts with a blue donkey on the chest. There were a few people who represented other political parties like the Libertarian Party, the Constitution Party and the Green Party.
Ignoring the stares, Doctor Democracy looked at a poster on the nearest wall and said, “These are the ‘Gym Rules.’ I helped the Founding Fathers create this list of rules, 10 principles that, though not conclusive, give a good idea of how the founders and I thought a person of reason thinks. I called them the ‘Rules of Reason’. Unfortunately, after 230 years, just like the original Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, the Rules of Reason have faded so much that they are almost unreadable to most.
Those principles were supposed to guide the mind of your democracy, helping the body fight against dogma and ignorance, diseases that constantly seek to destroy your republic’s health, just like they have done to so many governments now buried across the street. But, as the rules faded, they were replaced by what I call the ‘Doctrines of Dogma,’ 10 principles that are the antithesis of the Rules of Reason.” Speaking louder so the whole gym could hear, the doctor said, “I define dogma as the feeling of close-minded certainty that leads a person or group to think they are always right, never challenge their own beliefs, resent anyone who dares to challenge their views, and sacrifice the pursuit of objective truth for the sake of protecting their subjective opinion. In short, reason cares about truth, and dogma cares only about its opinion of the truth.”
Our Drug of Choice
The doctor continued. “In the brain, dopamine is an important chemical in reward-motivated behavior. The anticipation of reward increases dopamine, motivating a person to pursue a prize. In a healthy democracy, the greatest prize is objective truth. In the body of a healthy democracy, reason is the dopamine that is released that causes the democracy to hunger and thirst for nutritious truth. Dogma is a drug that blocks the release of the dopamine of reason. When a mind becomes addicted to the drug of dogma, replacing dopamine with dope, then the body becomes convinced that, instead of wanting the pleasure received by pursuing and discovering objective truth, it should protect the ‘good’ feeling of close-minded certainty by absorbing information – no matter how false – that supports its certainty, and excrete information that opposes its views – no matter how true.”
Doctor Democracy looked back and forth between the political parties. “Few are actually doing vigorous intellectual workouts based on the Rules of Reason. Instead, most of them spend their time looking in the mirror and admiring their own mental muscles, which, because there is no longer a visible standard of reason in this gym to measure against, look great to them. But, put up against true logic, most of their mental muscles look puny and weak. Both major parties, the republicans mostly out in the open and the democrats mostly in secret, buy from dogma’s drug dealers, AKA ‘Dogma’s Doctors.’ Then, both parties, instead of relying on the dopamine of reason, become addicted to dogma’s dope.” Looking back and forth between members of the two dominant parties who were flexing their puny muscles in the mirror, Doctor Democracy continued, “They think dogma’s dope is a steroid that makes their mental muscles grow big and strong, but it is a hallucinogen that gives them the illusion that they are intellectually stronger than others, hiding from themselves their own intellectual weaknesses.”
The doctor continued. “Almost naturally, governments tend to divide into two dominant dogmatic parties like your republic has had for over 150 years, but it is good that these two parties did not exist in the 1780s because they probably would have derailed the Constitutional Convention. The constitution might never have been written because so much compromise was needed by all the states to approve it. The drug of dogma causes the left and right to neglect the core muscles of compromise, blinding them to the reality that strong core muscles helps the whole body become stronger. Instead, they view compromise, the lubrication that helps democracy’s body progress, as evil. I think that many of the Founding Fathers, even ones who would later help create political parties, did not want political parties to exist. But they were realistic, and understood that dogma would probably be strong in their government like it was in every other government throughout history. So they wrote a constitution that would hopefully balance dogmas against one another so that no dogma could take complete control.”
Nodding in agreement, I asked, “Dogma and parties are a problem. Got it. What other flaws in our democracy’s health do you see? At least flaws that I, a common citizen, can help fix without needing to work in the State House, on Capitol Hill or in the White House.”
The doctor said, “Your democracy has many health problems that can be addressed later. I don’t want to overwhelm you. For now, focus on dogma. Your democracy’s addiction to dogma is its worst health problem because it leads to so many others. Overpopulation is probably the world’s biggest problem because it causes or contributes to almost every other problem. As the world should deal with overpopulation because it would have a domino effect that helped fix other problems, so also your republic should deal with its dogma problem because it will help fix almost every other problem. Dogma causes your democracies body to hold in toxic, false or outdated information. Help put your democracy through a dogma detox.”
I asked, “How? I don’t think there is a political sauna we can put the entire body of our democracy in and pull out the toxins of dogma. What do we do, post a new poster with the ‘Gym Rules’ clearly visible?”
Doctor Democracy nodded. “That’s a start. I recommend also posting the Doctrines of Dogma beside the Rules of Reason. Dogma works best when it controls minds from the subconscious level while consciously allowing a person to think they are using reason. Posting the Doctrines of Dogma could help make people consciously aware of what dogma looks like.”
Discouraged, I shook my head and asked, “That doesn’t sound good enough. How do I make reason more visible and practical?”
Doctor Democracy scanned the gym. “Have you noticed that about 40 people are working out on their own? They are the independents who do not want to be affiliated with any political party because parties tend to expect all members to fall in line and dogmatically believe the same on all policy issues. So, the 40 percent who are independents wear no unifying t-shirts because they want to maintain their independent mind. Yes, there are some within the Republican and Democratic ranks who work out by the Rules of Reason, but the majority who still hunger and thirst for the truth that can only be found through ruthless reason and science are found in the 40 percent who are independents. There is hope found in every group, but your democracy’s greatest hope for detoxing itself of dogma is found in the independents. Independents are your democracy’s largest political group, but they don’t seem like it because they are spread around the gym, unorganized. Organize them.”
I asked, “How do you organize people who don’t want to be organized?”
“Maybe there are many who don’t want to be part of a group,” the doctor said, “but I think many do. Create the type of political party that might be attractive to independents.”
Skeptical, I asked, “Another political party? That sounds like adding to the problem. Besides, independents don’t want to be attached to a specific policy platform that the entire group is expected to believe in.”
Doctor Democracy said, “Political parties are not the problem. Dogma is. Dogma comes naturally. Reason usually requires disciplined intentionality because it can be difficult and requires patience. A strong third party united, not around a specific policy platform, but around reason could help your democracy detox and improve its ranking.”
Confused, I asked, “If this new party is not built around a specific platform, then what ideas hold the party together?”
Doctor Democracy sighed, clearly frustrated that I could not see the answer on my own. “Instead of building a political party around a specific platform of policies, because that usually causes dogmatism,” the doctor pointed at the faded Gym Rules on the wall, “unite the new party around the foundation of the Rules of Reason. Create a party that has no platform, no dogma, only reason.”
I said, “That still sounds too ideologically restrictive for independents to want to join.”
Doctor Democracy said, “40 percent of the electorate is currently about 90 million Americans. You do not need all 90 million independents to join this new party for it to become a formidable example of reason. A million members would cause the country to take notice. Probably even a 100 thousand would do, maybe less.”
I looked around the gym. “I still think independents value working out alone too much for them to want to work out in a political group of any kind.”
Doctor Democracy said, “You are a soldier. Early in the morning, the whole company wakes early and does company PT with all soldiers doing the same workout routine. Morning PT helps build unit cohesion, comradery, and discipline. But, for many soldiers, those morning company PT sessions are not enough so they work out in the evenings on their own. Likewise, give the independents a party built around the same principles of reason that many of them already build their worldview on, which could provide a uniting symbol through the same party workout that could build cohesion and group discipline among independents. Then, within this new party, on the shared foundation of reason in which every member challenges their own beliefs and welcomes other members challenging their views, create a culture of open-minded diversity of opinions on which each member can build their unique platform of policy beliefs, thus keeping their independent mind.
“Other parties start by creating a platform that all members are expected to believe in, and then they build under that platform a foundation of dogma that enforces a party culture of close-mindedness. But your political party would have no official party platform, and the culture of open-minded reason it creates would allow each member to build their own personal platform. So, this new party could have T-shirts with the party symbol on one side to show unity of party, and then on the other side it could have their own unique platform of beliefs.”
I took a deep breath. “You have given me a lot to think about.”
At that time, a Doctor Dogma approached Doctor Democracy and me. The drug dealer held out some dogma’s dope and said, “The first dose is free.”
“No, it would not be free,” Doctor Democracy said. “It would cost us reason, which means it might cost us everything.” Doctor Democracy then said to me, “I have an appointment with Switzerland’s democracy, currently ranked tenth. See you at the next checkup. Through the remedy of reason, follow the three D’s: detox, diet and dumbbells. That’s what your democracy needs. I hope your republic doesn’t do what you were tempted to do when you were diagnosed with cancer – ignore the doctor’s advice.” Doctor Democracy turned to walk out of the gym.
“Wait,” I said, “I don’t know how I will pay you.”
Doctor Democracy looked back. “This is pro bono. The only payment I need is for you to help keep your republic from dying and being buried across the street, and help improve its ranking.” The doctor left the gym.
Meanwhile, Doctor Dogma again offered me Dogma’s Dope. I declined.
I turned and watched our republic attempt to work out. As I watched, I was cautiously optimistic. Our democracy still had a strong foundation that helped it to survive for almost two and a half centuries through many sicknesses. A world class athlete may stop working out for a year, but the muscles and bones, though having lost some of their strength and endurance, remember what they used to be and what it took to get there. Likewise, our democracy has the muscle memory of reason the Founders established within it.
I stepped in front of the Gym Rules and squinted so that I could read the faded print. “A political party founded on these principles that could attract independents. What should I call it?” I took a picture of the Rules of Reason, left the gym, and walked across the street to the Graveyard of Governments. In the section for dead republics, I stood in front of our democracy’s plot and stared at it. I couldn’t think of a name for the new party. I looked at the Roman republic on the left. No name came to mind. I looked at the Greek republic on the right. Then, I thought of a name: the Logos Party.