Ready to reinstall the guardrails of democracy?

With so much anger in our politics, who's ready to put back the guardrails of democracy?

[Listen below, or scroll down to read the essay]


One of the most compelling metaphors from the last 18 months is that the guardrails of democracy have been broken. Credit for launching the metaphor goes to David Frum and a piece he published in The Atlantic last year.

Supposing for a moment that there are people who are concerned beyond the politics of 2017, what would it take to put the guardrails back? Outside of party labels and apart from ideological definitions, don't many Americans want to self-identify as being "pro-guardrail"?

For short, we could call the pro-guardrail people "guardrailers". Something totally different from left, right, moderate, etc.

By design, a "guardrailer's creed" would have to be short and simple. Hardly any more than a commitment to abide by some basic civic rules. I propose a "guardrailer's creed" in three simple parts -- even though I think a lot more would be worth debating.

Guardrailer's creed 1: I will consider ideas based on the merits and facts, not based upon who suggests them -- whether my ally or opponent. (The sooner we acknowledge that ideas are more important that blind allegiance to a "team", the better.)

Guardrailer's creed 2: I will debate the issue in front of me, without resorting to yesterday's arguments, excuses, or whataboutism. (We have too many problems to waste time relitigating the past or engaging in a competition of who's demonstrated the worst behavior.)

Guardrailer's creed 3: I will choose tools of persuasion before tools of compulsion and will abide disagreement with civility. (Just about everyone could stand to de-escalate a little and respect the marketplace of ideas. Enough with the arms race of outrage.)

Virtually nothing that can be done in politics is worth getting via lasting damage to the whole concept of the civic space. But the harder we make it for people to disagree (or change their minds) without running for shelter, the worse our future is going to be.

Disagreement itself is a cornerstone of republican democracy. Ideas have to compete. But civic disagreement is a skill we have to practice. I'd rather be forever in the minority in a country of people who agree and hold to a civil process than "win" through outrageous means.

"Many of the people who share our deepest convictions about life are on the other side in political controversy." - Margaret Thatcher

So, for what little it may be worth, if I refer to myself in the future as a "guardrailer", this is what I mean.

There's something perverse and un-American to thinking that we need to restore a mythical past greatness. Our real identity is to improve. But we can't do that without vigorous debate and testing of new ideas and intelligent defense of the old.

Brian Gongol

Brian Gongol

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