What Puerto Rico is getting right

Puerto Rico has just gotten its third governor in less than a week. And while some people point to that as a sign of dysfunction, I prefer to see it as a sign that things are actually working as they should in the commonwealth.

Consider what's happened. The press uncovered behavior by people in high office -- including the governor -- and brought it to the attention of the public. Subsequently, members of the public turned to both mass and social media to express their discontent with what had been revealed. Large protests ensued, and petitions were circulated to call for the governor's resignation.

Of the five freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment, the story thus far has made ample use of four: The free press, free speech, freedom to peaceably assemble, and freedom to petition the government. (And there was probably plenty of prayer over the situation, too.)

And protests matter because, when conducted in sufficient numbers, they reveal whether those with political power still have the support of the public. Let it never be forgotten that in our country, government obtains its legitimacy from the consent of those governed. Puerto Rico's governor, Ricardo Rossello, lost enough of that consent that he resigned.

The courts of the commonwealth determined that the outgoing governor's appointed successor, Pedro Pierluisi, was not legitimately installed into office, and he peacefully stepped aside. That may look messy. But in the end, it represents the functioning of checks and balances -- and a necessary respect by one branch of government for the decisions of another.

All this, of course, against a backdrop of recovery from a devastating hurricane, widespread economic hardship, and a vast out-migration to other parts of the United States.

A wise person once told me that what matters isn't whether you make mistakes; it's what you do to make things right after they go wrong. As human beings, we're imperfect; we will make mistakes and things will go wrong. What matters is whether we take corrective action to set things right.

The people of Puerto Rico are demonstrating to the rest of us that it is possible for things to go wrong, and then be peacefully set right. Maybe it's not even over: The new governor, Wanda Vazquez, said just a few days ago that she didn't want the job, and there are calls already for her resignation. There may be more tumult to come. But, so far, Puertorriqueños have shown that self-government is still alive and still worth fighting for.

We shouldn't look at the drama as a failure. We should look at our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico and applaud. The mechanisms of democracy are working.

Brian Gongol

Brian Gongol

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