Wednesday, November 07, 2012

What's wrong with elections

Yesterday the US held elections and Barack Obama was re-elected as president. On Sunday, November 18, Honduran political parties will hold their primary elections. Then we’ll have to wait another year until November 2013 when Hondurans will elect a new president, as well as members of congress and municipal authorities.

Reflecting on what I read about the US elections and what I see here in Honduras, I’d like to suggest that there are serious flaws in the way that democracy is being practiced.

First, there is often a temptation to demonize the opposition.

Reading what some people were writing on Facebook was demoralizing. Not only were there outright lies, but the tone was downright ugly. Civility was absent as proponents of one candidate raged against another candidate, most often, but not exclusively, against President Obama.

Some of the ravings reminded me of the commentaries here in Honduras in the months before the June 2009 coup overthrew the elected president, Mel Zelaya.

Why is it that some people think that their opponent is demonic?

Secondly, there is a temptation to present one’s candidates as saviors.

I didn’t see this much in what I read about this happening in the US, though some supporters of President Obama approached his campaign.

But here is Honduras it’s more blatant. There’s even a political candidate whose theme is “Salvemos Honduras – Let us save Honduras.”

Thirdly, there is a tendency to see politics in terms of political leaders who will rescue us.

Politics is what the politicians do for us or against us, some think. Therefore, their roles are exaggerated as if everything political depends on them. Thus they can be viewed as either demons or saviors.

Fourthly, these temptations are based in a tendency to see elections as the ultimate act of democracy.

If democracy is reduced to elections, those elected are not considered accountable for their actions during their terms, but only when they seek re-election. What is important is who wins the elections, not how they serve.

In a different context, Monseñor Ricardo Urioste, who served under Archbishop Oscar Romero, said that “elections are a note in the symphony of democracy.” They are essential but not sufficient.

These temptations indicate a failure to take responsibility.

To ensure real democracy, people should vote but they should also participate in other ways of seeking to transform society. When Alexis de Tocqueville visited the US in 1831, he noted the importance of intermediary organizations, the civil society for the health of the republic. Involvement in civic organizations, unions, study and action groups, and pressure groups offer an alternative to the dyad of elected officials and those who elect them. They offer a place to influence policy from the perspective of the people. Recall the importance of the civil rights movement to make changes in our society. Pressure by the people is often more important than mere elections.

Furthermore, I believe that these temptations are rooted in placing trust in might, rather than the power of God.

The scriptures are clear:

“Not by power or by might, but by my Spirit,” says the Lord.

Or as the psalms note in several places, as in psalm 33: 16-17

The king is not saved by a mighty army;
A warrior is not delivered by great strength.
A horse is a false hope for victory;
Nor does it deliver anyone by its great strength.

The might of the US empire is limited, not matter what we may think. A little humility would help all elected officials in the US and throughout the world. They are not the saviors and the “god complex” can lead to all sorts of evil.

In the face of this we need to work together in a different manner for the common good, and especially for the good of the poorest and marginalized.

But also we should pray.

Here is a prayer by noted biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann in his Prayers for a Privileged People,  that I found on the Facebook page of Tammy Walhoff:

Post-Election Day Prayer
            by Walter Brueggemann
You creator God
   who has ordered us
      in families and communities,
      in clans and tribes,
      in states and nations.

You creator God
   who enacts your governance
      in ways overt and
      in ways hidden.
You exercise your will for
   peace and for justice and for freedom.

We give you thanks for the peaceable order of
   our nation and for the chance of choosing—
      all the manipulative money notwithstanding.

We pray now for new governance
   that your will and purpose may prevail,
   that our leaders may have a sense
      of justice and goodness,
   that we as citizens may care about the
      public face of your purpose.

We pray in the name of Jesus who was executed
   by the authorities.

1 comment:

Charles said...

This must have been a shock to Mitt Romney and to the Mormon Church, since The White Horse Prophecy was being bandied about.

Almost all of the demonization/deification occurs on the right because they prefer a simple, Manichean view of the world. Me, the more I see of life, the less I think that anyone belongs on a pedestal. We all get bogged down in such petty things.