Now the agony of the protracted American election is over. I owe you an
apology. Cattiness should not have invaded in my remarks about Swedish
democracy. I understand the position of your king as the head of State, not
goverment, it is the common form of our British Goverment and most of the 44
Ordinary men unschooled in the law can rise above their bourgeois
predilections and fill the dreadful role of giving judgment in jury trials.
Jurors don't always perform admirably, but the myth of a jury's ultimate
fairness usually inspires its members to act accordingly. A myth is useful,
and the politicians who tampered with democratic myths made fools of
The repercussions of the American election would have been different if
Katherine Harris, Florida's Republican secretary of state, had risen to her
larger responsibilities as simple jurors generally do. The denouement would
have less rancour and litigation had she played to the myth of popular
democracy rather than the lust for partisan victory. Nobody could have faulted
her for making sure there was time for a full, fair and careful count.
The myths of democracy are not delusions, they may be just part of the
truth, or embellishments of an inner reality in American culture's creed.
Coupled with the American freedom to expose their flaws, the myths have power,
they celebrate the powerful ideas that government belongs to the people, that
voting is a common right, that all citizens are equal, that they are governed
by the rule of law, that minority views are protected no matter how abhorrent
to the majority.
A system of self-government cannot run on skepticism and conflict alone; it
needs for people to believe in it. Belief is what ambitious political party
adherents put at risk as they try to win instead of trying to learn the will
of the people.
Democratic myths are difficult to explain their vitality depends on
something intangible--not just on free speech or the separation of powers, but
also on the sense of the American system is a moral enterprise. The closest
thing the United States had to a state religion is constitutional democracy.
It is no accident that Americans sometimes use religious vocabulary to
describe their sacred right to vote and their scriptural efforts to convert
other peoples according to the gospel of political pluralism.
The post-election turbulence was a Rorschach test, a democracy messy enough
to invite anarchy and a democracy stable enough to ensure order, a system
susceptible to manipulation and one that tries to guarantees fairness.
Countries whose myths are false lose them, sooner or later. It happened to
the Soviet Union, when Communist myths were gradually eroded until hardly
anybody believed them. They were then swept away by the spate of truth-telling
that commenced under Mikhail Gorbachev. Left behind now is a terrible vacuum
of faith that nurtures new forms of exploitation and authoritarianism.
Strength lies in disputes, which prevent one or another interest from
dominating. Be scrappy and contentious without trying to destroy those who
disagree. We must remain bound together by the myths, of family, of
democracy and of fairness. We can choose our friends, we can not choose
our family. The myth that those who share either our blood or our dream
make us love, even if we do not like, the members of this extended family
close at hand or in far off lands.
Self-government is not only as a gritty non-fiction work of squalid facts
it is also poetry.
Nollaig Chridheil agus Bliadhna Mhath Ur