Accepting the Faults in a Democracy

My first experience managing others was at a small, rapidly growing tech company.  My job became too much for one person to do, and some people were hired to assist me.  They were smart guys, and I spent some time training them.  However, the first months weren’t very productive because I was reluctant to assign them tasks.  The primary reason?  I believed I would perform those tasks correctly, but the new guys would inevitably make mistakes.  Mistakes that would affect our customers and damage the company’s reputation.  It was at this point that I was given the most important management advice I’ve ever received: to delegate responsibilities to others, I must accept that they will make mistakes.  And indeed they did: they made mistakes, they learned from those mistakes, and life went on.  Though the mistakes could have been more serious than they were, the risk was acceptable to the company because the need for productivity was more important than the need for perfection.

So it is with democracy.  The whole point of democracy is that not everyone agrees about the choices the nation must make.  In a democratic republic, such as the United States, not everyone agrees who should be trusted to make those choices.  At any point in time within a democracy, there are a set of issues which do not have broad, majority consensus.  Due to the way the two-party “system” in the United States works, there are many such issues, and the adherents to each position are about evenly split.  What this means is that, over any period of time, about half of the choices made on contentious issues will be wrong (“wrong” being from the point of view of whoever is complaining about it).  This is inherent in the nature of democracy: wrong choices will be made.  (In fact, this is inherent in the nature of any form of government, the only difference being that outside of democracy, you and your opinion don’t matter.)  Through the democratic process, the nation will make mistakes.  The nation might learn from those mistakes.  Life will probably go on.  (Admittedly, the magnitude of the mistakes could have life-ending consequences, such as global thermonuclear war.)  However, these risks are acceptable to the nation because the need for unity and freedom* is more important than the need for perfection.

During these troubling times, I feel that it is important to take a step back and look at the big picture, rather than to engage in hysteria about the direction this nation is suddenly going.  Yes, a slew of wrong (from my perspective) decisions are being enacted.  Yes, they are serious, and the consequences will be significant and often irreversible.  However, part of living in a democratic society is accepting both the mistakes and the consequences.  Accepting.  Yes, resist through the political and legal process, but at the end of the day, when all options have been exhausted, accept the outcome.  (Though, the end of the day is not today.  If the planet survives Trump’s presidency, however long it lasts, there will be opportunity for change.)  Because this is the democracy we live in.

From this perspective, it is fair to say to those suffering hysteria that they are being “sore losers”.  The phrase is inadequate, because in a game there are no real consequences, while in national politics there are.  However, if you are going to participate in democracy — and by voting, you are implying consent to democracy as a form of rule — then you should accept the outcome of that process, just as you would expect others to accept it if the outcome had been different.

(* I hesitate to use the word “freedom” here because the word has multiple meanings, but most people seem to be unaware of the distinctions.  (One of my pet peeves is when someone says, “it’s a free country,” because the country is free in only one sense, and the person saying it is almost always attempting to convey a different sense that is not true.)  Here I mean freedom from tyranny and unrepresented rule.)