What’s happening to our ‘perfect Union’? Print
Written by Mary C. Uhler   
Thursday, Mar. 17, 2016 -- 12:00 AM

We Americans have always prided ourselves on having a democracy that operates fairly well.

Unlike some other countries, we usually settle our differences nonviolently (the Civil War being one big exception). We’ve relied on the ballot box to vote for our leaders.

Changes in our democracy

But over recent years, it seems as if our peaceful way of governing has given way to nasty bickering and even violence in word and deed.

The presidential election has exemplified this change in how things operate in our democracy. I am appalled at the way the presidential candidates are treating each other, let alone some of the rhetoric they’re spewing.

Citizens of our country are not only voicing their opinions in an angry manner but entering into physical confrontations at political rallies.

What is going on in our country?

The importance of politics

Columnist David Brooks wrote an insightful article recently in The New York Times entitled “The Governing Cancer of Our Time.” For those of you who aren’t familiar with David Brooks, he is a conservative political writer, often siding with the Republican side of the aisle.

In this column, Brooks starts by saying, “We live in a big, diverse society. There are essentially two ways to maintain order and get things done in such a society — politics or some form of dictatorship. Either through compromise or brute force. Our founding fathers chose politics.”

He explains that “politics is an activity in which you recognize the simultaneous existence of different groups, interests, and opinions. You follow a set of rules, enshrined in a constitution or in custom, to help you reach these compromises in a way everybody considers legitimate.”

I looked up what our Constitution says: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

The Constitution spells out all the processes by which our government operates in its three branches: executive, legislative, and judicial.

As David Brooks points out, politics is not easy. He says, “It’s messy, limited, and no issue is ever really settled. Politics is a muddled activity in which people have to recognize restraints and settle for less than they want. Disappointment is normal.”

But he also adds that’s the beauty of politics, too. “It involves an endless conversation in which we learn about other people and see things from their vantage point and try to balance their needs against our own. Plus, it’s better than the alternative: rule by some authoritarian tyrant who tries to govern by clobbering everyone in his way.”

Trend toward ‘anti-politics’

But Brooks points out that over the past generation, we have seen the rise of a group of people who are against politics. These groups want to elect people who have no political experience. They want “outsiders.”

He adds, “They delegitimize compromise and deal-making. They’re willing to trample the customs and rules that give legitimacy to legislative decision-making if it helps them gain power.”
These “anti-politics” people are ruining our country, insists Brooks. They are electing people with no experience who can’t accomplish much in elected office. This leads to more dissatisfaction, which in turn causes a continuing downward spiral in our country.

Return to civility and respect

So what’s the solution? I think it means trying to return to a respect for politics, civility, and working together for the common good of our country, not just for our own self interests.

Catholic Social Teaching offers a rich treasure of wisdom about building a just society. I would suggest that we voters study what our teaching has to say and share that with our fellow citizens.

Sometimes it might be difficult to find a candidate that follows Catholic teaching consistently, but we have to study the candidates and the issues and make an informed, conscientious choice.

We Catholics have a lot to offer to get our “perfect Union” back on track.