Friday, September 14, 2018

Democracy's Fragility

To be sure, the elevation of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario to government redounds to everyone's shame. Led by a buffoonish thug, Doug Ford, it is a party that seems intent on debasing not only its proud history, but also all citizens of the province, whether they voted for him or not. And therein lies an object lesson: the fragility of democracy.

It is the theme of Rick Salutin's column this week, one I recommend everyone read. He observes how profound Ford's ignorance about democracy is in light of his reckless invocation of the notwithstanding clause of our Charter to get his way with the size of Toronto city council:
He doesn’t get and never will, that democracy isn’t just about votes. It includes rule of law, free press, minority and human rights — which can’t always wait four years. They take flight pretty quickly.
And those rights are being violated, if the sad spectacle of protesting seniors being handcuffed in the legislature this week is any indication:
It’s been a grim reminder not just of the Charter’s fragility but of an entire edifice we grew up assuming was entrenched. It can blow away in a stiff breeze: democracy, civility, tolerance, and Ontario’s special target: law. Why are these venerable institutions going back centuries, so vulnerable? Because none of us, the living, go back that far. Each person is a new start on Earth.
It would seem that what we don't experience personally influences our perspectives:
It doesn’t take much to “forget” something you never lived through personally. True, history can lie on us like a weight, or blessing. Custom and tradition seem formidable. But only personal experience has a living grip — like the inequality and insecurity of the last 40 years, and especially the last 10.

The young for instance, have no experience of more hopeful times. For them, what’s so great about institutions that gave rise to this situation? No matter how far back democratic institutions stretch, in theory or history, none of us were there, we only heard about them after our arrival.
But there is a path to a more visceral appreciation of our democratic institutions:
Virtual Reality pioneer Jaron Lanier, says he once had an epiphany: every time we trust a traffic light, pay a bill, or “buildings don’t all fall down and you can eat unpoisoned food that someone grew” testifies to “an ocean of goodwill and good behaviour from almost everyone, living or dead.” We are, he says, bathed in a love that shows itself above all in “constraints” because they compensate for human flaws.
Never have those flaws been more obvious in Ontario than in the present situation, and it is time we once more recognize, right-wing cant notwithstanding, that as individuals, we are singularly vulnerable to the vicissitudes life has to offer; it is only through the collective that real hope is to be found:
Institutions like law and democracy rise (and rise again if they fall) through that sense of connectedness and need to trust each other, since there’s really no alternative. We’re nothing as individuals alone, though individuals can be damn impressive. It’s the human sense of solidarity, ultimately, that will (or may) save us and make us whole.


  1. Democracy has always been about "we the people," Lorne. It's never been about, "Me, the Premier."

    1. Somewhere along the line, Owen, Doug the Thug missed that lesson.

  2. Owen touches on something critical when he quotes "we the people." It's not Doug Ford or Donald Trump who have undermined democracy but a complacent populace that was otherwise absorbed while democracy, undefended, was stealthily taken from them. There is a deeply concerned minority but they're a generally peaceful lot, most unwilling to consider even modest expressions of civil disobedience. Our timidity is no match for their temerity and they know it. Authoritarians know that much too well.

    1. Your point is very well-taken, Mound. We are our own worst enemy.

  3. One of our fellow bloggers has coined the term 'dougocracy' which seems to sum up where this is headed if he gets away with it Lorne.

    1. I hadn't heard that term, Rural. It seems most appropriate. Thank you.