American Democracy and the Santa Claus Test
In her column at the Nation, Tulane professor Melissa Harris-Perry challenges readers to compare their belief in the democratic process with believing in Santa Claus. She says that like Santa, democracy requires us to believe that collective faith can be greater than our individual doubts.
Santa exists only if we make him real through belief. The American project in democracy is similar. Even as we challenge it to be better, fairer and more honest, we still have to believe that democratic governance by the people, through their institutions, can and should exist. Like Santa Claus, democracy requires us to believe that collective faith can be greater than our individual doubts. In 1994’s Miracle, Santa says, “I’m not just a whimsical figure who wears a charming suit and affects a jolly demeanor ... I’m a symbol, I’m a symbol of the human ability to suppress the selfish and hateful tendencies that rule the major part of our lives.”
Our faith has been badly damaged by governors who crush unions, by a Congress that will not govern, by a military that tortures, by campus police with pepper spray, by coaches who prey on kids, by CEOs who slash jobs as profits rise, by a system that seems irreparably broken. But building a country requires investment in one another, hope that we can be better tomorrow than we are today and faith that our failures are not definitive. In these final days before we enter the 2012 election year, it is time to ask, “Do you believe?”
Read Melissa Harris-Perry's entire column at the Nation.