The Fragility of Democracy

April 23, 2022

Democracy is a government of the people, by the people and for the people” – Abraham Lincoln

The Democratic Process

Kids are never too young to learn about and participate in the democratic process.  My kids began going with us to vote since before they could walk.  Up until a few weeks ago, if you were to ask my seven-year-old to tell you want democracy meant – his answer would be “voting.” Voting is a right of passage, an action for democracy sake… and it comes with stickers! Lots and lots of stickers!

Democracy – its as American as motherhood and apple pie. We fight to free the oppressed. We celebrate the instillation of free and fair governments across the globe. Ink stained fingers of citizens casting a vote for the first time – we cling to these images.

Democracy is Fragile

A while back, I found myself sitting at a small business roundtable with an Ambassador from one of the many young democracies around the world.  His country, a democracy for barely 30 years, struggles with reconciling how things were done in the past and the desire for a strong democratic future.  As we talked about the Russian threat in Ukraine and the concern over authoritarian forces – we discussed that in short – all democracies are fragile. They are fragile because they require more than just citizens who vote. Democracy require judges to not accept bribes and a police force to enforce laws equally. It requires the media to be allowed to publish stories without fear of harm and the peaceful transition of power to the next elected official.

Teaching Kids the Fundamentals of Democracy

Given the complexities of democracy – I knew it would take more than a few conversations for it to take hold. And so I found myself digging through the blackhole of the toy closet….and then it hit me – quite literally as it toppled off the shelf.

Tap out the ice blocks one-by-one but Don’t Break the Ice!

This game couldn’t be a more perfect visualization for the just how fragile democracy is. One small piece or another doesn’t cause a democracy to fall apart– but the culmination of all of those small actions can….and you never know which piece will end up breaking it apart.

As we broke away the ice – we discussed things that are foundational to democracy. I threw together a quick list of democratic concepts I wanted to ensure the kids understood.

Disclaimer: There are deeper nuances to each of these topics. I chose to break it down to the simplest form for my four & seven-year old; as your children grow, you can expand on the topics and introduce the appropriate exceptions to these. For instance – we expect that while the media is allowed to write what they want, without fear of threat from the government, that they will publish to appropriate standards of truth. And while you can speak your opinions and ideas – when the ideas turn to threats, they are taken seriously and investigated as appropriate by the authorities.

Democracy Around the World

Democracy is fragile – it depends on citizens, the military and institutions working together and playing by the same rules. But not all governments are democracies.

  • Authoritarian governments, the opposite of democratic ones, ignore the rights we take for granted
  • Both democracies & authoritarian governments are the most stable forms of government in that they are both predictable
  • Transitional democracies, are newer democracies, and at the greatest risk for failure
  • Characteristics of a Transitional Democracy:
    • High risk of government turnover
    • Weak and corrupt institutions
    • Poor fiscal discipline
    • Larger number of political players / interest groups
    • Easily influenced by authoritarian influence / historical experience

Freedom House, a non-profit organization, that advances the efforts of people around the world to live in freedom, maintains an interactive “Freedom in the World” map. We love exploring this map, and the many topics that can be found on the Freedom House website.

I Voted”

Midterm elections are this year – and my kids will anxiously await yet another “I voted” sticker to add to their collection. This year, I want to make sure they understand that our democracy requires far more than voting.

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