I think a healthy democracy is based on a few key ingredients. One is an informed citizenry. One is politicians who represent the people of the country. And one is an engaged citizenry. Yes, I'm sure there are plenty of other important factors as well, but these are three critical ones, perhaps more critical than any others. Let's take a quick look at how the U.S. fairs on these.
An Informed Citizenry
We like to think that we are informed, right? Heck, we're the best country in the world, how else could we have gotten here? (Never mind that we are actually ranked 13th in the 2009 Human Development Index (HDI) -- the 2010 HDI is due out next month.. we'll see if things change.)
But as we've seen lately, most Americans can't find Iraq on a map, 9 out 10 ten can't find Afghanistan, less than half the country can identify the religion of our President, 20% of the population is sure that the Sun revolves around the Earth, and Americans have some very strange ideas about global warming, one of the most important issues of our day.
Now, I think most of these information failures are not a result of anyone trying to misinform the American people, but it goes to show you how easy it might be to do so.
It's election season and, unfortunately, rather than be honest with the American people, we have plenty of businessmen and politicians who would prefer to spread misinformation about climate change, clean energy, and how to help the economy.
We've got oil and gas companies putting in millions to convince citizens how they should vote on propositions directly related to cutting their pollution and we've even got European oil and energy companies funneling money to US political campaigns.
And how hard can it really be for these wealthy companies to convince the American public of whatever they want regarding energy and the environment, issues we know little about, especially when they've got millions and millions to spend on TV commercials?
We could go on and on, but let's move on to the next topic.
Politicians that Represent Us
Do our politicians really represent us? Well, you don't need to delve into this topic too far to answer that question. If politicians get into office by using money given to them by big business to convince the American people of whatever they need to in order to get elected, who do they really answer to, us or the businesses that fund them?
Almost $4 billion is going into the 2010 elections. And most of that isn't coming from the common, American citizen.
An Engaged Citizenry
At this point in the article, you might be feeling a little on the down side. Yes, we are not the brightest country in the world. Yes, our politicians pocket a lot of money from big business, and listen to big business. But look at the issues the US has addressed by getting engaged, by grassroots efforts to change the ways things are done (e.g. slavery and equal rights for women).
Now, how engaged are we? That's hard to say. But one thing is clear -- we are in charge of our own engagement.
Engagement is in our hands. And if we want to turn things around in those first to categories, the first thing we can do is get more engaged and engage others. From there, we can better inform ourselves and our country. From there, we can get our politicians' ears.
Engagement is in our hands and starts with us. How healthy is our democracy? I'm not sure if I want to take a guess. How can we make it healthier? Get engaged.
Photo Credit: Luke Redmond via flickr (CC license)