“Democracy” is not just a word. It is a concept deeply thought out…and when applied as best as human beings could… it created societies where the masses were able to live with one another, in spite of their differences. Its creation was a blueprint for humankind to be able to live in peace and harmony. It is a system which created a lawful “respect” for the rights of all within a community… not just for the wealthy and the powerful, nor only for a minority segment which was able create their own victim-hood and a sense of entitlement from others.
Democracy is a process. It is slow. It is unwieldly. It is awkward. But at its pinnacle it creates a well ordered, functioning society in which people can flourish. Saying that something is “democratic” does not make it so.
Institutions of higher learning which should be havens for the freedom of speech and thought, have become the opposite. Instead of encouraging students to think, to consider, and to participate properly in the democratic order, they have become vehicles for one mind-set, with punishments in place for those who dare to disagree. This is the fertile ground where democratic values should be perpetuated. Now sadly, academia no longer allows discourse, dissent, or investigation into the issues which we wish to understand, or even debate- to determine their validity.
A child-like, simplistic description of democracy, is that it is “one man-one vote.” Of course… “man” now includes women as well…but even that change evolved through democratic processes. Of course, in a true democracy, the color of one’s skin or one’s religious beliefs do not impinge on this right. That was not always so… but through labored democratic processes, a matured populace faced its demons and righted past wrongs. Democracy is much more than that. In countries where acclaimed “free elections” took place, but where the candidates were not selected by the “people”, the results were meaningless. It is not just the vote which is important, but the processes applied on every level of society.
I learned about the fragility of democracy first hand when I was living in Los Angeles during the Rodney King riots. Chaos broke out. The evil-doers outnumbered the police. Friends and family were terrified of gangs who were looting and setting malls on fire as public order disappeared. Those with guns, were prepared to use them because the police retired from the streets and let havoc reign. It was proof positive that “democracy” can only survive with the consent of the governed. When a substantial sector of the public decides to riot and rebel, all order is lost. Every citizen, thus, holds in the palm of their hands, the future of their society. There is only so much that a government can do to stop evil. The United States of America is famous for having more people in jails than any other nation on the planet. Still, evil is not vanquished. In some cases, it is even encouraged. Take for example, the unwillingness of the police to arrest anyone stealing less than $750 worth of merchandise. When immorality has no consequence, where is the incentive to be honorable? When serious criminals are released to re-offend because of a lack of space in those very prisons… respect in the laws and the systems which created them, diminishes vastly.
Every democratic nation has its weaknesses. There is an inability of the US Federal government to implement its own mandates upon States which rebel. That is partially because a “State” in America, is the size of a “Nation” elsewhere. That is also why “States rights” is a constant battle against Federal policies. When those same States refuse to implement the basic laws created by a democratically elected Congress…the fibers of freedom begin to unravel.
While those against the current re-structuring of the Israeli Supreme Court are in total panic that change bodes destruction, those same individuals are not the least bit interested in democratic principles. Still, they declare that the end of “democracy” is near. In fact, it is not the end of democracy which is at stake…but the “actualizing” of it. The United States, as written in its constitution, embodies those values. Not only do citizens vote to select their local and state leaders, but they also vote for Representatives and Senators to represent them in the business of Federal Lawmaking. Those very lawmakers are the ones, to whom the responsibility of selecting a new Supreme Court judge, must reside. When the Democrats hold the balance of power, their selected nominees will most certainly be on the political-left in their interpretation of the US constitution. When the Republicans hold power, they most certainly will look to appoint judges with more conservative views. In both situations, the nominees must be vetted, interrogated, assessed, deemed suitable, and voted upon by the entire Congress. That is how very important the US Supreme Court is. The court itself is a court of last resort. In order to bring an issue to the highest court in the land, one must have a direct connection to the matter at hand… or need not apply. The U.S. Supreme court does not hear every issue… it only deals with those which absolutely cannot be resolved by lower courts. Even then, it can refuse to hear a case it deems unworthy.
A Supreme Court needs to as balanced as possible. The fact that power shifts in a democracy from right to left as the political climate dictates, is a healthy way for the court to reflect the totality of the people for whom they adjudicate.
Israel’s Supreme Court must be designed in a similar fashion. When a Left-wing government has the Knesset majority, it is reasonable that they would look to fill a vacancy with a qualified candidate of their choice. When the Right comes to power, they are entitled to do the same…but all after careful consideration, interviews, and ultimately a vote of the members elected to represent their constituency. It is quite inconceivable that a Supreme Court in a democratic nation, should have the right and power to select its own members without a responsibility to the people’s elected government. Democracy requires accountability. Democracy requires an attempt at balance and an attempt at fairness.
When the Middle East experienced “The Arab Spring” in different countries. Coups took place to topple dictators. Governments and bronze statues fell in tandem. President Obama then blithely announced that “Democracy was spreading across the Middle East.” It was a false reading of the spirit of those doing the “over-throwing.” There was no democracy on the horizon…just more dictators. The people did not acquire power…or a voice. The power just moved from one select group to another.
Democracy must come from the people. They must want it. They must be willing to risk that they will not always get exactly what they had hoped for. They must be satisfied that they had a voice and accept the will of the majority.
What is happening in Israel both on the streets, and in the media, is not democracy. Of course, democracy guarantees the right to oppose the status-quo and the right to free speech. It does not however guarantee that such opposition will triumph when it is the will of the minority. That is indeed, the purpose of elections. The will of the minority to force change on the elected political body is not democracy. It is a form of chaos. The problem with this approach is that it has a deleterious effect on the entire society.
When people rioted throughout America over perceived police brutality … they desecrated their cities and destroyed property. They disrespected their democracy, the rights of fellow citizens, and treated it all…as worthless. Change must happen through orderly processes. These abhorrent behaviors chip away at the moral fiber that once held nations strong. Israel and America are similar in that respect. The less respect there is for orderly change, for the will of the majority to rule, the more degradation of democracy will occur.
When power is abused…be it by a Government, an elected leader, or a Supreme Court… it must be checked. It must be addressed. The idea that a Supreme Court of a democratic nation could exist without evolving from the very government it serves, is incomprehensible to those who understand the true processes of a democracy. Any unchecked power… can easily give itself more authority than that to which it is entitled. It appears that is the nature of governmental institutions: to push the limits of unchecked power until a fracture appears in the society it is ruling. Democracy exists to keep a balance where it would normally go asunder.
There are times when societies must self-correct their own errors. There is no doubt that institutions evolve which serve the purpose of a large number of citizens, and are still essentially non-democratic. Much of this depends on self-restraint by those in control. When that restraint degrades, it is normal and healthy for the body politic to reign in that which has gone beyond its intended scope.
Democracy is much more than a word. It is a principle…a philosophy. The next time someone declares that “our democracy” is at risk… take a moment to reflect on whether “our democracy” is actually all that it was intended to be. Democracy is “pure” in its goals. Understanding and then… applying the essence of the concept of “Democracy” is critical before a society can thrive…ultimately for the benefit of us all.