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Much of the American public today is suspicious of the tone of our political debate, but they can’t see where the actual injury is.  No harm, no foul; so many of the people that are disturbed also participate.

The description of the injury is:  If voters completely turn on each other the government will become dysfunctional and democracy will need to be liquidated in order to provide the most basic services.  The ‘I don’t respect you’ tone of our political debate is making us turn on each other right now.

Both history and current events have plenty of examples of democracies failing, and the cause is always Internal Political Divisions.

The American experience in Iraq will be used as the primary example for this web site.  Any attempt to install democracy in such a divided country would be of interest but we can also contrast the constitution we helped write in Iraq, with the one we made for ourselves.  It tells us a lot about how our views on the subject of Internal Political Divisions have changed.  There was a lot of disagreement about the war its self but the one-person-one-vote constitution we left them with was Bi-Partisan.  Our constitution, on the other hand, counted slaves as six tenths of a person for Congressional districts, and over-represented small states in presidential elections. It didn’t seek purity but something everyone could live with.

Once the goal is ‘something everyone can live with’ then the danger is implicitly acknowledged, there must be something they can’t live with.  In Iraq the constitution was simple; the sect with the lowest numbers is screwed.  Today we still aren’t willing to admit that the deep divisions in Iraq make pure democracy impossible.  This willful blindness is what threatens our own system now.

Ben Franklin and President Lincoln, among others, emphasized the fragile nature of democracy and the responsibility that average citizens have to provide constant maintenance and the need for unity and trust.   The American People read their words in Junior High School and are familiar with the concepts.  Yet they can’t believe that our democratic institutions could actually fail, we count on the overwhelming logic of democracy to keep it safe.  To us any government that doesn’t have the consent of the people is just plain stupid, which is why it can’t happen here. 

It is only stupid as long as we have confidence that the voters are qualified to make the choice.  This confidence can be lost quickly. The people of South Carolina viewed the Presidential election of 1860 as illegitimate even though they were well educated, believed in democracy, and knew that cheating wasn’t involved.  The election wasn’t right because the abolitionists voted in it.

Saddam Hussein justified the need for authoritarian government by saying that ‘The people are like children, they need a father’.  Subsequent events in Iraq do tend to confirm this but for us to support democracy in any particular country we must assume that the vast majority of people who live there do not need a father and are qualified to choose their leaders.  It’s an assumption because it doesn’t depend on real life.  For elections to be legitimate it must be so.  

Increasingly the political debate we hear in the United States today uses Saddam’s line of logic:  My political opponents are either too ignorant or too immoral, depending on which side you are on, to being taken seriously.  This is why our political debate is so nonsensical and distasteful, it is not about issues or facts, but about whom we are as individuals, and how that qualifies us to make the awesome choice. No one really sees themselves clearly in the first place, and the accusations can’t be made directly so the words are in code.   It is no wonder that the debate sounds confused.

Once political debate becomes about people it offers all of us the opportunity to form a new identity.  This new political-identity carries with it an intoxicating and addictive agent, the purity of believing that our political opinions are protecting ‘our people’ from evil.  The problem is that the evil one lives next door and, of course, they aren’t actually evil. 

We have reason to be concerned.  The next door neighbor is in fact a threat. The ‘others’ have the power to vote in a hostile government that has broad powers over all of us. 

As soon as everyone in Iraq realized that the very real threat of the dictator had been replaced by the much worse threat of all other Iraqi citizens they lost confidence that the system could succeed, there were too many identities and not enough trust between them.  What trust did exist could be easily wiped out by terrorists.  Violence came quickly.

Even in a completely homogeneous country there would be income and personality differences so the neighbor-threat will exist in every democracy.  The income division alone made Hitler dictator out of failed German democracy, during a temporary economic dislocation.

The neighbor-threat tends to deepen divisions over time, where each election is an opportunity to damage trust, and the effect is cumulative because everyone remembers all past injuries.  When we do our duty to minimize IPDs we are doing it for our grandchildren.

What is most important for this front page is that once anyone accepts the possibility that our democratic system could be threatened by Internal Political Divisions then all the political issues of the day are seen in a completely new light.   

If IPDs are unimportant then it is right to pursue every possible issue aggressively, even the ones that are purely symbolic. Discrediting our opponents is the main goal, or as we put it; strong debate is good.  This is where we are today, distrust for each other increases over stuff that doesn’t really even matter.

If, on the other hand, minimizing IPDs is even a minor goal then any political advocacy faces an initial threshold standard for action (any action will cause some division): Is this really a matter of substance and not just a way to make me feel better about myself?  If this threshold is met, which a lot of the issues that are destroying the most trust today would not, then the advocacy should be oriented toward achieving the substantive result, not discrediting the opposition.  The opposition must be assumed to be qualified if they are in sufficient numbers (15%).

The mission of the shattered-lens is to make the argument that all democracies are truly vulnerable to Internal Political Divisions.  This perspective is needed not just to sustain our own democracy but also so we can warn emerging democratic movements where the danger lies.  It will attempt to look at the issues of the day from this unique but important perspective.  Hopefully others will get involved in the conversation, the shattered lens needs help.