Our democracy has been going through some tough times lately, calling for a fair amount of thinking on how to fix it. And it makes sense to explore what fixes must be in order. After all, we are more than 230 years old, and much has changed in America, especially in the size and complexity of our government.
Thus far, the focus has been largely on structural changes to our electoral system — to voting access, to redistricting, to the electoral college, the filibuster and so on. And there are many views on what, whether, and how modifications should be made in each of these areas.
While some structured alterations are probably needed, a more fundamental change is also in order — one that involves how we view our role as citizens. If our democracy is to survive in the 21st century, it needs to evolve beyond its traditional, paternalistic, top-down model of leadership. But this requires more than structural revisions made by our leaders for us. It requires a fundamental change that can only be achieved by the exercise of personal responsibility.
As citizens, we have historically transferred responsibility for governance to our elected officials. Once we have voted, we, for the most part, assume the roles of spectators, and sometimes, as supplicants pleading for our representatives to solve our country’s problems. When they cannot, as has been increasingly the case in the 21st century, we become frustrated. And as the frustration grows, distrust sets in, fingers are pointed, and societal divisions emerge.