RIP Democracy; it worked, for a while

Democracy has failed. Despite all the promise it demonstrated early on, like all other forms of governance it ultimately relies on flawed human beings to set aside self interest and act for the common good.

It seemed to work for a while, but lately the glue that held the process together has hardened into cement. Money, greed, power, and political survival at all costs are toxic lubricants in a system that depends for success on good will, understanding, compromise, wisdom, and, occasionally, self sacrifice.

Unfortunately, as has happened so often in history, these qualities have been unable to withstand the corrupting forces that undermine a balance that rests on a fulcrum of trust, respect, and general welfare.

The “darker angels of our being” appear in control of the apparatus of government. They seem intent upon using any tactic, no matter how destructive, to achieve their goals. Burning the village to save it seems acceptable.

The Founding Fathers were sensitive to human failings and sought to counter such impulses with a system of checks and balances. This assumed there would be enough virtuous members to counteract the inevitable weaknesses of those less gifted. It worked for a time until self interest, greed, and narcissism undermined the system.

Checks and balances have today been replaced with hit and run, slash and burn, suspicion and animosity, and my way or the highway, all of which flourish in the absence of good will. In this atmosphere, checks become gridlock and balance a trampoline.

In theory, competing interests are supposed to come together in a spirit of compromise in which each side understands, even acknowledges, the merits of opposing views. Out of this process, aptly compared to a sausage factory, there was to emerge a product that was edible and nutritious. Not to everybody’s liking, but something that would sustain the general welfare.

Does the system have the capacity to self correct? With all its imperfections, can checks and balances ultimately overcome the divisiveness that now makes divided government unworkable?

In my lifetime, I have been disappointed by the two institutions I most respected in my youth. The Catholic Church and the government of the United States were beacons of hope in an often turbulent world.

The degree to which original sin (human weakness) affected the church was a shock. Less so, was its manifestation in government. If the church could not better withstand these corrupting influences, how could we expect government to do so?

A self-indulgent culture makes it increasingly difficult to promote virtues of self- sacrifice, discipline, tolerance, and generosity. Good, well intentioned, God-fearing people fail to see that hostility toward the poor, immigrants or gays, and the promotion of unregulated gun ownership is uncharitable – a rejection of love – the most important virtue and the one from which all others flow.

I only hope it will not take some terrible tragedy to bring us back to a greater realization of our obligations as human beings to one another. Pope Francis is addressing these concerns as is President Obama. The great paradox is that the Republican Party, which tends to see itself as the party of true believers, seems unable to make the connection between spiritual values and public policy.

Love thy neighbor ends at the house next door.