06 November 2016

Our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor

                                        by Marilynne Robinson

Every four years Americans give themselves information about who they are and where they are on a spectrum of tradition and aspiration that normally frames our politics. The documents that have mattered to us have given us a set of ideals against which actual institutions and practices can be measured, and an abstract and deliberate language for encountering the issues that arise among people, which can, and often do, devolve into visceral and intractable conflict. The origins of these electoral arrangements are to be found in our history. They have been sustained over many generations by an agreed deference to custom and law.
This is to say that they are fragile, and that they are, in a sense, arbitrary. As resilient as they have proved to be through the trials of centuries, when their value and authority are not generally granted they can be overturned and dismissed, suddenly and almost casually. Let the idea take hold that elections are rigged, and popular government begins to seem no more than an illusionary empty exercise. Discredit the press, and the First Amendment is only a license to bloviate and slander. In other words, the viability of our system depends on a certain care, a restraint that avoids unjustified attacks and unfounded accusations against the system itself, and that demands integrity of those who hold positions of authority. If the generations that succeed us have a free press and elected governments, they will have the means to address our failures and their own.

NYRB 10/25/2016

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