So far, we have investigated the ideas and ideals that undergird American politics. Our class favorites have been the powers of The Supreme Court and judiciary as well as the local political forum that we ran. Now, we move onto fresher work to end the term: what type of politics is yours? who are you as "homo politicus"? what politicians are you attracted to? who might you loathe and despise? A year ago, America and the world fixed upon Washington to key on the man who transfixed the political universe: President Obama. Are you standing with him? or do you have your own way?
The assignment below may seem like a throwback to your middle school current events classes or to the "news"assignment you experienced with Molly last year. But there is the real chance to see what defines you politically, what you believe for your country and your world. This assignment is due on Tuesday, January 5th. There will be ZERO time for work in class; do this work wholly over break. Click on the links below and explore what you see and read. You'll probably notice that
From the strands of thinking from The Enlightenment Philosophers to our Founding Fathers, there has always been the questions of what makes American government different than other democracies. You have answered "Court!!" and you're right!! The judiciary is the one piece or branch of government that is really distinct from other democracies, be those places our close cousins in England or the new and curious democratic government. The Framers used a variety of sources to make our judiciary in The Constitution. The largest influence was The Enlightenment and the thinkers who shaped that age like John Locke. The American judiciary was designed to be strong, independent and flexible. The judiciary was also designed to evolve into the ultimate check and balance against the other branches of government. Look at the beginnings of this all--Marbury v Madison: the Supreme Court awards a job to Marbury over the protest of the President himself--the judiciary's opinion is fused into law over the wishes of the president. Or look at the modern cases: Tinker v Desmoines or Texas v Johnson-- not allowed to wear black armbands in protest--no, no says the SC--that's a breach of the kids' First Amd. rights or don't burn the flag in Texas--- no, no says the SC--symbolic burning--do it wherever you'd like as long as it is safe and in protest.
The Enlightenment philosophers paved the way for democracy by suggesting that life could be progressive and bettered by government. Their ideas amounted to a great deal because essentially their ideas reversed the reliance upon God to better the world. The philosophers pushed the idea that progress would be driven by people who act in concert with government. John Locke, for example, really believed that the social contract between people who make societies better. How does this jibe together with democracy? Democracy is about voice and participation--would people want to better their world with their own voice expressed in elections and voting?
Overall, in the recent past, The Civil Rights Movement of the late 1950s and 1960s showed America that democracy could be widened greatly. MLK, on his own, carried the spread of democracy greatly, but essentially all civil rights players wanted democracy expanded to Black America. MLK and others used arguments for natural rights to bolster their call for civil rights; they argued that since the right to life is guaranteed by the Constitution why not civil rights for other protections in American life? And, what about political rights like voting, protesting and attending meeting to voice opposition? Where are these rights? how are these rights expressed?
Democracy is a system of equality and voting under a government that is elected by those equal voters. The Enlightenment influenced American Democracy greatly. The Enlightenment questions like: what is right? what is humane? were very important. Thomas Jefferson knew this and rolled this into the American question: can government make a people better? and how? In the 1790s, there was limited democracy but still the chance to re-make the country to expand the possibilities.
American democracy is like a pendulum--democracy and democratic moments swing back and forth--sometimes these moments are many and sometimes few. For example, during the Age of Jackson, 1830-1836, there were flourishes of democracy: Jackson was an "everyman" not an elite; he was from the countryside not the small cities of the country. He was the first president elected by popular vote although this vote was limited. Immediately, Jackson came in with a democratic agenda: appoint popular local politicians to jobs where they could spread the American wealth for early road building and farm or shipping contracts. He also opened up The White House for everyone for the inauguration and beyond for tours. However, he swung to the undemocratic side as well and fast. He forced the Cherokee and other southeastern Indian tribes to move from the Carolinas to Oklahoma in what is called "The Trail of Tears". Jackson also was "elected" to a second term but in a strange way where he was "given" electoral votes from a challenger in exchange for the promise of a future political job. Many years--about 150-- later Ronald Reagan moved the democratic pendulum. He dedicated his presidency to defeating communism in Russia and China and replacing their governments with democratic ones. But he opened his presidency by firing thousands of air traffic controllers who were on strike for higher wages with the blessings of their union. Reagan touched on democracy in every speech he made, but nearly every six months for his 8 year presidency he slashed welfare benefits and food programs.
Why does American democracy swing from one side to the other? why are there democratic moments and undemocratic ones? Good questions.