Mutual Toleration

Mutual toleration is a term that I didn’t know existed but it does almost perfectly describe the current political problems.

President Trump hasn’t destroyed the republic. This should not surprise us. Our democratic institutions are strong. And Mr. Trump, despite his reckless attacks on democratic norms, is a weak and inept leader.

But that doesn’t mean democracy is safe. The problems we face run deeper than the Trump presidency. While Mr. Trump’s autocratic impulses have fueled our political system’s mounting crisis, he is as much a symptom as he is a cause of this crisis.

To function well, democratic constitutions must be reinforced by two basic norms, or unwritten rules. The first is mutual toleration, according to which politicians accept their opponents as legitimate. When mutual toleration exists, we recognize that our partisan rivals are loyal citizens who love our country just as we do.

The second norm is forbearance, or self-restraint in the exercise of power. Forbearance is the act of not exercising a legal right. In politics, it means not deploying one’s institutional prerogatives to the hilt, even if it’s legal to do so.

Source:  How Wobbly Is Our Democracy? – The New York Times

Yeah, I can see that these two basic norms for a democracy are being stretched to the limit during our present times. I would suggest you click on the link above to read this entire article if you have the time.

When did we stop accepting that our political opponents are legitimate?  When we stop thinking of those on the other side as a loyal opposition and start thinking of them as the enemy, political disintegration occurs. Of course, there have always been radical fringe factions in our political parties with the “enemy” mentality but they now seem to have almost “taken over the asylum” so to speak.  I kinda think these times can be easily ameliorated is only all of us would become more fundamentally engaged in the election of our officials.

In some ways, the second stated basic norm is more troubling than the first.  First off, when our constitution was written the idea of two opposing political parties was not on the radar screen.  I think it was just assumed that the people we elected all had a common goal of representing the “people”, not just a subgroup. It also assumed that the chosen leader of our country would be an accomplished statement, like our first president, who would not seek the office for power.

In a closing thought, I think it is time for us to revisit our cherished document to bring it up to the reality of our times. Putting one person in charge of the entire executive branch is a recipe for disaster. Maybe it is time to more thoroughly define where power belongs to each branch of government.  No, I don’t have a proposed solution for this; that effort is way above my pay scale so to speak, but I kinda think it is time to make that happen.

6 thoughts on “Mutual Toleration

    • This current president shows us how much damage can be done by an incompetent person in the Oval Office. When things return to normal, and I am convinced they will, we need to carefully look at the way we run a government.

      On your comment, autocrats love parades, especially if they “reign” over them. He still doesn’t know the difference…

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  • Washington was elected by white men – with between 1- 6% of the population voting. After him elections were fair game Federalists against the Jeffersonian Republicans- with lots of “you are not Christian”, “We do not have freedom of speech”, and the person who came in second becoming Vice President. There have never been really “pretty elections” (and I certainly don’t want to go back to 6% of the white men telling me who should lead me). The history of elections and politicians is amazing, amusing and at times scary. We ended up with a messy thing called Democracy. It works. Push, pull, call, talk, listen, compromise- democracy.

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    • I’m not really sure what your comments have to do with the post they are attached to, but you are right that pretty much only the landed aristocracy was allowed to vote in the early years. Of course, that was a very good change and that is related to the post. The constitution is a ever changing document and needs to be kept up with past advancements and future circumstances.

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      • Interesting that you do not see the attachment. I read your message in a way that fits my response. There is truly a disconnect, isn’t there? Here are the lines that most sparked me: ” When we stop thinking of those on the other side as a loyal opposition and start thinking of them as the enemy, political disintegration occurs.” “I think it was just assumed that the people we elected all had a common goal of representing the “people”, not just a subgroup”. My point was that the elections have almost always been about sub groups who end trying to make each other out as enemies and seek their (sometimes narrow) agenda in the end.

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