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Nation-building in a Democracy: Ever-Changing and Ever-Green

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Lisa Saye
July 29, 2022

@ Still Bright, United Nations New York. Photo and Title by Lisa Saye.

No nation or country should practice history-book democracy or the kind of democracy softened for the eyes and presented through lofty ideas of non-existent utopias. Democracy is the destination of a people and that destination is defined through experience. It is where we want to be and where we should be. A degree of democracy is better than 10 degrees of anarchy.

The United States has become known and admired for the richness associated with its version of democracy. What we fail to connect to that version is the many times we have tried to redefine democracy in an image that suits beliefs that are counter to its meaning. Any pullback from the tenets of representative government, equality, justice and access represents a disinvestment in people and governmental progress. As a country, I think we are aware of that. Subsequently, if we are willingly embracing a return to a period where we openly reject investing in all citizens, the departure from democracy becomes evident. And as a country, I think we are aware of this as well.

Why democracy is lauded as the premier governmental structure is apparent by the many calls for its use. Democracy is a library of voices for change and inclusion. It has become a central tenet in building nations and in securing real liberties. Nation-building does not end after writing a constitution and quite frankly it does not begin with writing one either. Nation-building in a democracy is motive and democracy provides the relationship for that motive. It operates irrespective of the system that adopts it because its reputation of success precedes it.

It goes without saying that this world is ever-changing. That democracy’s tent has expanded demonstrates that it will continue to do so. In a similar fashion, our new consciousness should reflect the evolutionary experience that we in the United States and we in the world have had with our particular journey of democracy.

Public service is the seamless and continuous transition pillar in the scheme of government known as democracy. Active public service prevents the misuse of democracy for any other motive beyond justice and inclusion. Public service that runs afoul of this specific directive is not public service—not even close. Rather, it is the purposeful misdirection of the structure of public administration towards personal agendas and toward personal power dynamics. Democracies are built to wrestle away and expose harmful ideologies because democracy is about people.

Public service is more than simply a wish upon a star. It is a tree with many branches. For the citizenry it represents healing and renewal through policy decisions, policy funding and policy implementation. While budgeting debates reflect a fight at the monetary margins of government revenue, public service is deliberate and purposeful. Subjective intentions aside, public administrators must do what is right for the people who are convinced that morality is its own monologue.

In the past few months a lot has been said about the fight for democracy. Its demise has been predicted daily. I see it differently. I see debate around the subject as less about punching and hitting and more about the eyes. Democracy is doing what it does best when it’s up against the ropes. It stares down weaker structures that attempt to flatten it. And just when it seems it can’t take another blow, it steadies itself like a row of butter lamps reminding us to calm down and focus.

Power over anything or anyone happens when we invalidate the contribution that each of us bring to an issue, a discussion or a resolution. Democracy is not one-sided. It allows you to dream, to learn from your failures and to find the best framework for governance. But, democracy also insists that we build constructs of equality and reminds us quite loudly when we do not. As democracy solves problems, it creates opportunities for creativity and innovation thereby lessening the power of a system that has historically demeaned and separated.

The vistas of the future always promise an improved view of human life and nature that is enhanced through notions of harmony and equality. Those vistas become blurred when systemic issues continue to thrive unchecked and unchanged. If we are to reject history-book democracy then we must work to ensure the survival and thrival (if that’s a word) of a structure that eventually becomes a natural transport system for justice, equality and representation from Lenape to Luxor and back again.

The copyrighted ‘Still Bright ’ image was taken by Lisa Saye.


Author: Dr. Lisa Saye served as Fulbright Specialist in Phnom Penh, Cambodia and as International Consultant for the United Nations Development Program in The Maldives. She served as Chair of the Division of Social Sciences and Humanities and as Associate Professor of Public Administration at American University Afghanistan. Dr. Saye can be reached by email at [email protected]

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