Wednesday was a scary and difficult day. The heart of our democratic institutions, in the building that symbolizes freedom and democratic ideals around the world, was brutally attacked by an angry mob incited by a group of demagogues claiming to represent “true” American values. It was deeply painful to watch.
It was particularly shocking for me, as it brought back painful memories. More than 50 years ago, in my homeland of Greece, a small group of right-wing forces dismantled democracy and installed a military junta in just a few hours. The junta trampled civil liberties, imprisoned political opponents, instigated chaos and anarchy, and ruled by fear for several years before the democratic processes and ideals were restored.
However, on Wednesday, our democratic institutions held strong, and by the end of the day both houses of Congress returned to the Capitol Building to do the people’s business. Collectively, we were relieved. But we can’t forget how disturbingly easy it is to slide from a democracy into a dictatorship. Democracies thrive when they act in accord with the collective will of the people. But when the people lose their ability or will to work toward consensus, democracy is weakened.
Democracy demands dialogue. It demands that we work toward a consensus in which everybody sacrifices something for a greater collective good. Reaching this compromise requires respectful dialogue among people with different opinions. The resulting compromise is not a weakness: it is the foundational strength of a government of the people.
As a nation, we are facing serious challenges ahead. The rejection of the mob rule on Wednesday is a hopeful sign that our democratic institutions remain strong and committed to solving our problems. But those institutions are us, and only through the unwavering commitment of each of us, as individuals and collectively, can democratic institutions survive.
I would like to hear your thoughts. Please send them to President.Floros@nmsu.edu.