a quick glance at the newspapers will confirm that the struggles to right these wrongs continues today.
What we can say proudly, as a nation, is the adoption of the Bill of Rights established the first self-improving system that protects essential human freedoms, and it also instigated the astonishing rise of modern democracies throughout the globe.
Freedom House notes there was not a single liberal democracy with universal suffrage at the turn of the 20th century, including our own. But by 2000, 120 of the world’s 192 nations had adopted a form of government with universal suffrage. The number continues to grow (123 today) because humans naturally want freedom.
In our work at Montpelier, we educate people whose work requires a comprehensive understanding of the Constitution and our system of government: teachers, law enforcement officers and public officials. I witness firsthand how the issues of our time create space for new protections and challenges of our rights, and how the law evolves over time to guarantee our freedom. Nothing is ever perfect, but I continue to believe that a more perfect union is attainable.
I know that many people feel pessimism about the state of global and national politics. I am not one of them, though I am discouraged principally by our country’s low voter turnouts and disillusionment with government. Government and politicians, the members of our first Congress, passed legislation that has granted us our freedoms. They didn’t do it without compromising, and they didn’t do it behind closed doors. They felt a tremendous urgency to get something accomplished they knew would define the nation’s history.
Madison said, “But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.”
Madison and the rest of the Framers, recognizing that humans usually act in their own self-interest, designed a government capable of protecting ourselves from ourselves by creating gridlock when the majority and the minorities can’t agree. In other words, our system works best when there is a productive gravity in the middle of the two main parties, not at the poles of each. Government wasn’t designed for politics; it was the other way around.
Now that the U.S. national elections have been resolved, we should stop feigning surprise that there are political and ideological differences between our two major parties. American has been divided many times before, and the next cycle of division will begin the day after the inauguration. But we need our lawmakers to recognize problems, articulate solutions and pursue compromises.
As Americans, we need to trust our system of government, listen to each other and rebuild the gravity in our center by understanding what it is we want. We have many more interests in common than the current state of our politics would suggest. If the next Congress is looking for an agenda to pursue, they should start there.