Keep the faith – and spread it, too

Democracy works only if enough people believe democracy works.

by
Democracy, of course, is fact-based: Without the acceptance of shared facts, it collapses and, eventually, ceases to be. But an equally important facet of democratic citizenship is faithNot the religious kind, necessarily, but faith in our systems, processes, people, institutions, and future.
Facts and faith aren’t mutually exclusive; their interplay goes back to the very beginning. This eternal dance affects nearly everything we do or think. Consider: Nearly everything we do has some faith to it, from planting a garden in the spring to scheduling an outdoor wedding, to wearing our favorite team’s colors though they might be three-touchdown underdogs. 
The same is true with democracy. Eric Liu, the founder of Seattle-based Citizen University, is fond of saying democracy works only if enough people believe democracy works. Recently, amid unprecedented tumult and disruption, some have begun to wonder out loud if this is really the case anymore. The constant revelations about the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol insurrection have been eye-opening in so many ways, but most of all they told us this: Those who participated in the attempted overthrow of our duly-elected government have lost their faith in democracy. And, if polls are to be believed, this sentiment is shared by a not-insignificant number of Americans. Two years after the 2020 election, many of those who voted for the 45th president continue to insist that their candidate was cheated out of a second term. By accepting a false “rigged-election” narrative despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, they have put the baseless accusations of one man and his inner circle above their faith in America. 
Can these Americans be brought back to a safe place, where they can muster new trust in our American institutions? We certainly hope so. We also know that ultimately, it is their choice and their choice alone. But in the meantime, it is important that the rest of us – and that’s most of us – keep the faith, show our faith, and spread our faith. Faith in our systems, in our institutions, and in one another. This can only help make the path for our fellow-citizens’ safe return a little more likely, a little easier.
We do this knowing that, yes, QAnon and “alternate facts” are contagious. But so is democracy. In fact, if we had to place a bet, we’d bet the house on democracy. Throughout our history, it has been the dominant contagion. It might not always feel like it as we trudge through our American experiment, day by day and struggle by struggle, but taking the long view, our democracy has a pretty good track record.
The work of democracy requires persistence in the face of missteps and false starts, of which there will be many. History calls on us, in this pivotal decade, to summon our trust in America once more.
From the Founding, change and progress have been the story of America. History calls on us, in the current headwinds, to summon our trust in America once more. We can and should harness the rejuvenating power of faith for the work ahead. We can keep asking those age-old questions that have moved mountains throughout our American story: How can things be different? How can things be better? How can WE be better? And then, when we find the answers, let’s go to work. Let’s make it a reality. 
Be optimistic. But beyond that, take the opportunity to spread confidence in our systems, our institutions, and our democratic future. Democracy is contagious – it has worked because enough people have believed it works, and so it must continue to be.
Inevitably, there will be difficult days for our country. Democracy is not supposed to be easy! It always will be tempting to wallow in the dark, to contemplate whether we are truly progressing or if we are backsliding into something else entirely and ponder giving up. But, to paraphrase Rep. John Lewis, the work is not the struggle of a day. It’s not the struggle of a week, a month, or a year. It is of a lifetime.
 And that? That requires faith.

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