A few weeks ago I was involved in a debate opposing the Motion `That nationalism is a threat to democracy`. As I pondered this question I was caused to reflect on what I consider to be the real threat to our democracy. I did not believe that nationalism in its truest sense posed a threat. In fact, if anything, history shows that nationalism contributes to democracy because it provides a sense of belonging and purpose and this in turn provides direction for our democratically elected government.
The real threat to our democracy is democracy itself. I say this because I believe the three T`s – Truth, Truthfulness and Trust – matter in politics and matter to our democracy. Yet, no one, as far as I know, has ever counted truthfulness among the political virtues and herein lies the threat. Within a democracy the incentive for politicians is to get elected, not tell the truth. Equally, in order to get elected they need to convey the appearance of trustworthiness. Once elected however, truth seems to dissipate and this then leads to a breakdown in trust in our political system, in our politicians and in democracy itself.
A US Sociologist called DaShanne Stokes once stated “Lies sound like facts to those who’ve been conditioned to misrecognise the truth”. This rings true to me. There is a growing mistrust in traditional media because of its failure to provide a diversity of opinion. There is a sameness about it. This has led to a growth in social media outlets, which are totally unregulated, publishing commentary which in many cases is mistruthful, misguided and ill-informed. This, in turn, is leading to a highly politicized and polarised society. People who question don’t know what to believe and are being attacked for doing so. This polarization puts a greater onus on our politicians to be truthful because they are our elected representatives. They are here to carry out the wishes of the people. That is fundamental to a democracy. But equally fundamental is our right to the truth.
And let us not underestimate the importance of truth. Truth possesses a strength of its own and there will never be a viable substitute for it. The right to speak freely and frankly is not the right to lie. Truth instills trust; trust instills confidence; confidence instills contentment. Yet, it remains the case that in Irish politics what you see is not what you get. People who love our country need politicians to honour that love. We need for our politicians to be truthful and to set the standard. For the sake of our democracy.
By Dylan Hutchinson for MOOT
The Three T’s for Democracy