Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

On Election Day, pause to marvel at democracy

By Frida Ghitis, Special to CNN
November 7, 2012 -- Updated 0631 GMT (1431 HKT)
Some CNN.com commenters shared Frida Ghitis' enthusiasm for voting, while others were disillusioned with the process. We have collected a sampling of their reactions. <a href='http://www.cnn.com/2012/11/06/opinion/ghitis-democracy-election/index.html?hpt=hp_t1_1#comment-701949912'>You can read chris1911's full comment here.</a> Some CNN.com commenters shared Frida Ghitis' enthusiasm for voting, while others were disillusioned with the process. We have collected a sampling of their reactions. You can read chris1911's full comment here.
HIDE CAPTION
Readers reflect on vote
Readers reflect on vote
Readers reflect on vote
Readers reflect on vote
Readers reflect on vote
Readers reflect on vote
Readers reflect on vote
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Frida Ghitis: Pause to marvel at democracy, where governed choose their leader
  • She says idea contagious, points to Tiananmen Square, South Africa, Arab Spring
  • She says elections only first step; idea is a government that works for society's benefit
  • Ghitis: At election, reflect on majesty of process, then get to working to fix its flaws

Editor's note: Frida Ghitis is a world affairs columnist for The Miami Herald and World Politics Review. A former CNN producer and correspondent, she is the author of "The End of Revolution: A Changing World in the Age of Live Television." Follow her on Twitter: @FridaGColumns

(CNN) -- Let's all stop for moment, catch our breath and take in the magnitude of what is happening. Before we jump from campaign frenzy to post-election celebration -- or disappointment -- we should not let Election Day pass without pausing to really absorb what an extraordinary thing democracy is.

The idea that the people have a right to decide who will govern them, that the men and women who want to become president have to undergo a grueling, months-long job application process, engaging with citizens, trying to persuade everyone, rich and poor, young, old, men, women -- everyone -- that they deserve the position, is a truly remarkable reality.

It is also a contagious idea that has spilled across the surface of the Earth like water seeking its natural level. But it is not a self-occurring, automatic state of affairs.

Frida Ghitis
Frida Ghitis

Over the centuries, the strong simply seized power, and the masses regularly endured unjust rule. Democracy has come because of enormous effort and sacrifice. And in too many places, many are still struggling, even dying, to claim it as their own.

America's democracy is flawed, yes. But it is nowhere near so flawed as to be rendered meaningless or beyond repair.

President Obama: My vision for America

Those who have spent their whole lives living under a democracy, or who have never witnessed the passion with which those living without it can yearn for a legitimate government, may not grasp just how stunning it is for all the people to have the power to choose their government. History, even recent and still-unfolding history, is filled with examples of dictatorship and tyranny. And it is rich with stories of courageous efforts to bring it down.

No one who remembers what happened in China in 1989 can take democracy for granted. Hundreds of thousands of students took over Tiananmen Square, erecting their crude Styrofoam and papier mache replica of the Statue of Liberty, the Goddess of Democracy they called it, smack in front of the giant portrait of Mao Zedong.

They declared that the goddess announced to the world that, "A consciousness of democracy has awakened among the Chinese people! The new era has begun."

It was not to be. Within four days, army tanks trampled the statue, along with hundreds, perhaps thousands of demonstrators. Today, the article you are reading now may not appear on Internet searches in China, which block the word "Tiananmen," along with efforts to bring democracy.

And who can forget the first multiracial election in South Africa? That day in 1994, voters lined up for miles as far as the eye could see, some waiting as long as 12 hours to cast their vote.

The winner was Nelson Mandela, revered to this day as a symbol of equality, reconciliation, non-violence and an unbending determination to make the privilege of democracy apply to all the people.

Penn State students wait in line to vote in the student union building on the State College, Pennsylvania, campus on Tuesday. Penn State students wait in line to vote in the student union building on the State College, Pennsylvania, campus on Tuesday.
America heads to the polls
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
>
>>
Photos: America heads to the polls Photos: America heads to the polls
How Arab unrest unfolded: Tunisia, Egypt
Political theater, angry crowds in Egypt
Nelson Mandela's early years

Mitt Romney: My vision for America

The passion for democracy among those who don't enjoy it can seem naive to those who have seen its flaws.

I remember interviewing women in Kuwait seeking the right to vote in that emirate's very limited democracy. What if after gaining the vote they would not make any progress, I asked. Their answer revealed complete faith that democracy would bring the best outcome. Then we just have to work better, harder, to explain our positions to voters, they said.

More recently, the images from Tahrir Square in Cairo inspired the world, as Egyptians sought to overthrow a decades-old dictatorship as part of a wave of revolutions across the region.

We have followed with nervousness the unfolding uprisings in other parts of the Middle East, wondering whether democracy will emerge victorious.

Not everyone who fights against the existing tyranny seeks democracy. There are those who would like to impose their own ideas of how the people should be ruled.

21 moments that defined the campaigns

After all, we now accept as obvious the belief spelled out in the U.S. Declaration of Independence that governments derive their power from the consent of the governed. But that is truly a revolutionary vision, one that turns the concept of power on its head.

In fact, it is a majestic idea, one that seems so romantic as to appear utopian, unreachable. And it is certainly not easy to achieve in all its fullness.

It's worth remembering that the proposition does not refer just to elections. Choosing a president and other representatives of the people to govern is just the first step. The true objective of the exercise is to establish a government that will work for the benefit of society or, as Lincoln so perfectly expressed it, "a government of the people, by the people, for the people."

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



For a reminder of how drastically different this could be, think back to the start of the Arab revolutions, when Mohamed Bouazizi, an impoverished Tunisian fruit vendor trying desperately to make ends meet, set himself on fire after an official capriciously confiscated his fruit cart and weighing scales.

Your take: Should we have polling places in churches?

It means that after a government takes the reins, the country has a right to expect it to function for the benefit of the nation; that when the government fails, the people have a right to be outraged and demand results.

In a few hours, the polls will close across the United States, results will begin pouring in and a large part of the population will feel deeply, painfully, angrily disappointed, while a slightly larger portion will burst into celebration (unless the election brings another excruciating delayed decision).

So, let's pause briefly to experience a sense of awe for the system. After that, the time will be right for a new push to repair its many flaws.

Frum: Our voting system is a disgrace

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Frida Ghitis.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0242 GMT (1042 HKT)
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0112 GMT (0912 HKT)
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1709 GMT (0109 HKT)
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2345 GMT (0745 HKT)
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 2134 GMT (0534 HKT)
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Jeff Yang says the film industry's surrender will have lasting implications.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2113 GMT (0513 HKT)
Newt Gingrich: No one should underestimate the historic importance of the collapse of American defenses in the Sony Pictures attack.
December 10, 2014 -- Updated 1255 GMT (2055 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah asks how the genuine Stephen Colbert will do, compared to "Stephen Colbert"
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1734 GMT (0134 HKT)
Some GOP politicians want drug tests for welfare recipients; Eric Liu says bailed-out execs should get equal treatment
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
Louis Perez: Obama introduced a long-absent element of lucidity into U.S. policy on Cuba.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 1740 GMT (0140 HKT)
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1600 GMT (0000 HKT)
The Internet is an online extension of our own neighborhoods. It's time for us to take their protection just as seriously, says Arun Vishwanath.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 2154 GMT (0554 HKT)
Gayle Lemmon says we must speak out for the right of children to education -- and peace
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1023 GMT (1823 HKT)
Russia's economic woes just seem to be getting worse. How will President Vladimir Putin respond? Frida Ghitis gives her take.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 0639 GMT (1439 HKT)
Australia has generally seen itself as detached from the threat of terrorism. The hostage incident this week may change that, writes Max Barry.
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 2020 GMT (0420 HKT)
Thomas Maier says the trove of letters the Kennedy family has tried to guard from public view gives insight into the Kennedy legacy and the history of era.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1456 GMT (2256 HKT)
Will Congress reform the CIA? It's probably best not to expect much from Washington. This is not the 1970s, and the chances for substantive reform are not good.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 2101 GMT (0501 HKT)
From superstorms to droughts, not a week goes by without a major disruption somewhere in the U.S. But with the right planning, natural disasters don't have to be devastating.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1453 GMT (2253 HKT)
Would you rather be sexy or smart? Carol Costello says she hates this dumb question.
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 2253 GMT (0653 HKT)
A story about Pope Francis allegedly saying animals can go to heaven went viral late last week. The problem is that it wasn't true. Heidi Schlumpf looks at the discussion.
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 1550 GMT (2350 HKT)
Democratic leaders should wake up to the reality that the party's path to electoral power runs through the streets, where part of the party's base has been marching for months, says Errol Louis
December 13, 2014 -- Updated 2123 GMT (0523 HKT)
David Gergen: John Brennan deserves a national salute for his efforts to put the report about the CIA in perspective
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 1426 GMT (2226 HKT)
Anwar Sanders says that in some ways, cops and protesters are on the same side
December 11, 2014 -- Updated 1439 GMT (2239 HKT)
A view by Samir Naji, a Yemeni who was accused of serving in Osama bin Laden's security detail and imprisoned for nearly 13 years without charge in Guantanamo Bay
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 1738 GMT (0138 HKT)
S.E. Cupp asks: How much reality do you really want in your escapist TV fare?
ADVERTISEMENT