Tending to our American democracy is more difficult than any of us imagine. At its core, democracy as we practice it is founded on inalienable rights–life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, as the Declaration of Independence affirms, but the first amendment to the Constitution also insists that this democracy requires some basic freedoms: of religion, speech, the press, and the right to assemble and to call on the government to address grievances.
There is an inherent tension in those two claims. The claim to an inherent right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness affirms individual freedom, but the first amendment binds us to community work which no individual can be free to ignore–if democracy lives. Freedom of religion means not only assuring that my religion is protected, but that your religion or your choice of no religion is protected as well. The right to speak, to assemble, and to publish–especially grievances that the government must address–require us to engage with one another.
When Republicans and Democrats speak as if the other must be repressed or as if they are the only two political stances, we damage democracy. When Christians or any other religious or anti-religious group work to ensconce their religious views in law, democracy is damaged. When a President or anyone else seeks to use his/her power against a group of people because of the color of their skin, their sexual orientation, their country of origin, their religious affiliation, or their ability to publish freely, democracy is in danger of failing.
When a people choose democracy as their way of being together, they bestow a bounty into the proper place–the hands, hearts and minds of the people. To have a democracy requires the constant work of justice.