Democratically Yours

A friend of mine is kind enough to pass along his copies of The Economist  when he’s done with them.  I generally skim through them, since most of the current events-type stuff is a bit out of date by the time I get them (a similar complaint I now have of newspapers, tragically).  Most of all I enjoy those opportunities to read something not strictly related to international economics or politics – at least within the limited scope of current events.  I enjoy thoughtful articles that stimulate thought on topics that folks are not generally aware of.  Someday, I may even author something like that.

One article that caught my eye was from the October 3rd issue of the magazine, and was an update on the situation in Honduras between deposed president  Manuel Zelaya and his temporary replacement, President Roberto Micheletti.  Mr. Zelaya had been ousted for ignoring calls from his own government to curtail his activities towards undoing the Constitution to allow him to hold office as president for a second term.  Mr. Zelaya had snuck back into Honduras against government orders, and was holed up in the Brazilian embassy in Honduras, hoping, it is assumed, for a groundswell of public support to sweep him back into office.   

The article highlights the abuses that Zelaya’s selfish behavior in returning to Honduras had pushed President Micheletti into (abuses that The Economist clearly deplored) such as declaring martial law and silencing opposition media outlets.  It was clear from the article (as from other articles The Economist has run on the situation) that the magazine feels that the expulsion of Zelaya was inappropriate, and that the only possible appropriate course of action is for him to be reinstated as President immediately.

I continue to find this strange, but not necessarily surprising.  We’ve passed well beyond the time when people in the US truly believed that government is of, by, or for the people.  The government now simply is.  It has been around for a while, and it isn’t likely to be going anywhere.  The job of the people is not to seek substantive change to the government, but rather to trust that the government is always acting in their best interests, and to trust the government regardless of what experience or common sense or any other form of knowledge might tell them would be a better course of action.  We’re told this, because we are not experts.  We are not consultants.  We are not lobbyists.  We really don’t know what is best.  So just vote this particular way – never mind that it won’t really change the outcome of things one bit.  Our duty is simply to cast votes, and then let the judges and bureaucrats decide what those votes ought to mean.

The dangerous thing is that our government firmly believes this as well.

So the most frightening thing in the world to a government that wishes to espouse democratic principles and freedoms, while counting on the fact that nobody will exercise them, is an example of a nation taking the principles of democracy very seriously – seriously enough to drive out of town a president who ignored those principles, and was intent on violating Constitutional law in order to further his own personal political agenda (another term in office).  In other words, it’s fine for a government to ride rough shot over it’s people, but the reverse sure as hell better never happen, because that is incompatible with democratic principles.  Government does not exist for the people – not even a democratic government.  Democratic government exists for itself.

Of course, a certain level of this is endemic in any ruling organization or population.  People are self-interested, and seek to preserve what they have against change.  Groups of people acting under Constitutional guidelines are very much the same.  And so, after time, it seems inevitable that even the wisest and most benevolent efforts to govern will become diluted – or worse, polluted.  Eventually, even when clear benefit to the people has dissipated, the expectation that the government will remain as it is stays in effect.   But those who feel that radical change to the status quo is illegal or illicit would do well to revisit the Declaration of Independence.  It’s very clear that our founding fathers recognized that what they were undertaking to do was an option that remained open to any people of any time.  The first two paragraphs are general statements of the right of people to insist on proper government.  This wasn’t a one time option, in other words.  And it’s not surprising that in a more recent democracy such as Honduras, these principles would be taken more seriously. 

Yes, there is considerable debate about the objectivity of both the congressional and judicial branches of the government.  But it would seem to be illogical to cite the illegitimacy of the government as a grounds for insisting on the continuation of the government.  Perhaps it’s all corrupt, in which case, hopefully the ousting of Zelaya will be just the first step in broader reforms.  Or perhaps this situation will provoke a crisis wherein officials will be called to account through existing systems.  This would of course be the preferred route.  But history has shown that such efforts are also rarely successful. 

I find the situation in Honduras to be lamentable, but not for the same reasons that The Economist or the US Government appears to.  I find it lamentable that an elected leader could be so crass about pursuing his own goals against the goals of his people and the very government that he is elected to administer.  I think the eviction of Mr. Zelaya was done remarkably smoothly and efficiently, with practically no bloodshed.  The interim President made it very clear that he was there only to ensure that legal elections would proceed on time (this month). 

It is lamentable that this goal was complicated by Mr. Zelaya’s behavior, and I’m encouraged by recent turns of event that demonstrate that things appear to be getting back on track.  A provisional agreement is being decided upon today as to whether or not Mr. Zelaya can be reinstated as President to serve out his term through January, with a scheduled November 29 election still on the calendar.  Neither Mr. Zelaya or Mr. Micheletti can be candidates in this election.  I pray that if Mr. Zelaya is reinstated, he won’t revert to his former shenanigans.  And I pray that Mr. Micheletti will remain true to his word, rather than  attempting to seize power or delay the election for the protection of the country.

But I don’t think that the Hondurans acted inappropriately in ousting Mr. Zelaya in the first place.  I think it will be admirable if he has learned his lesson about Democracy well enough to be reinstated.  But this should serve as a strong reminder to all democratic governments that they exist of and by and for the people, and that when they cease to acknowledge that the people retain the right to decide if they are fulfilling their obligations in this light or not, they are subject to dismissal – and not necessarily on the terms that they set.

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