FOR MORE THAN two centuries, the United States has been the proudest example of democracy in the world. Maybe not the best, but definitely the proudest. Oh sure, we’ve hit some rough patches over the decades, mainly in dealing with our native peoples and other ethnic minorities. Also with women, the poor, the falsely accused, the unemployed, and people who aren’t bankers. But let’s just call those growing pains.
For the most part, America has been that shining city on a hill, and by America, of course, I don’t mean Canada or Mexico, or the other countries whose names I forget, most of which don’t have many good hills to shine from anyway.
But I’m not talking about geography, I’m talking about pride. The pride that comes from being number one in democracy, despite being number 55th in infant mortality and 35th in math. Okay, so we don’t test well. But we’re proud anyway. And we’re still number one in Bible science! [High five!]
But lately, because of continued dysfunction on Capitol Hill, people are starting to whisper that democracy in the United States may have lost some of its shine, like we’re “hiding it under a bushel,” as it says in the old Christian campfire song of my youth. (We also sang “With Jesus in My Boat I Can Ride Out the Current Economic Downturn,” and “Children, Go Where I Text Thee.”)
But if America’s “little light” is no longer shining, at least a few other nations are providing good examples of self-government.
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, for example, which doesn’t have many bushels to hide things under—and the lights only shine a few hours a day—nonetheless re-elected its president with an enviable level of citizen participation. Pretty much everybody voted. In fact, Kim Jong Un got 98 percent of the vote, and that’s without the absentee votes counted. (North Korean expatriates can pick up their ballots at any border guard booth. Guard: “We’ve got them right here, just come a little closer ... closer ...”)
(In celebration of its latest act of democracy, North Korea launched two medium-range missiles into the Sea of Japan, a favorite target of its military—presumably a school of tuna offended the Dear Leader in some way—with the added benefit of scaring the crap out of Japanese politicians and their silly constitutional monarchy.)
The U.S. could never match the voter turnout of North Korea. We’re just too complacent to care. Either that or, when we go to the polls, we can’t actually vote because we don’t carry a birth certificate, a driver’s license, a Costco membership card, and a gun permit. And this year we’ll also have to pee in a cup. (Constitutionally speaking, “One Man, One Cup” is an idea whose time has come.)
IN ANOTHER EXAMPLE of democracy in action (you thought I was finished?), Russian-speaking Ukrainians just voted to rejoin the Soviet Union. By an overwhelming majority, residents of Crimea chose to secede and become part of their ancestral homeland, currently called “Russia,” at least until President Vladimir Putin works out the details.
Putin annexed Crimea under the pretext of controlling the “chaos” in eastern Ukraine, although the chaos was mainly the work of plainclothes Russian thugs imported for the task. (Russian fashion designers begged the president not to send thugs dressed in plain clothes, since it reflected poorly on current Moscow trends, which do not include corduroy and fuzzy caps with flaps.)
The Russian land-grab—however ill-fitting—did not happen without protest from Ukrainian interim President Oleksandr Turchynov and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk. But journalists’ spellcheck software crashed before they could report it.
Face it, democracy is never pretty (especially in some outfits), and some critics even compared Putin to Hitler. On the other hand, he wasn’t compared to Obamacare, so score one for Putin.
Ed Spivey Jr. is art director of Sojourners.