Every once in a while, something happens to remind me why America, as screwed up as we are politically, is fundamentally a cool place. Watching Egypt fight, over the past few weeks, to obtain the democracy we take for granted was one of them.
Two hundred and thirty-five years ago, we fought that same battle. It took us, not eighteen days, but six years to accomplish the goal. Perhaps it was because we had to work so hard to earn our democracy that we esteem it so highly.
To my mind, though, the thing that sets America apart from a lot of other attempts at democracy didn't occur until 1792. That was when George Washington, who could have hung onto power with the same python grip Hosni Mubarak has exerted over the past thirty years, chose to walk away, to return to being a farmer, to let someone else have a turn.
It is when I see the evil men do to gain and hold power that I'm truly awed at what the founders of the country managed to accomplish. Think about some of the dictators we've seen:
- Fidel Castro, Cuba, death toll: 15,000 to 17,000
- Edi Amin, Uganda, death toll: 100,000 to 500,000
- Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe, death toll: 20,000+
- Teodoro Obiang, Equatorial Guinea, death toll: unknown, bank account: $600MM
The reason I chose these four, out of the dozens from the last century, is that each of them took over from another dictator, took power swearing they would not repeat the mistakes of the last ruler, that they would institute democracy and let their people have a choice.
And each was, inevitably, seduced by power (or lying their asses off in the first place, but that's a whole different post).
By contrast, we have a government that, every four to eight years, without revolution, without bloodshed, without riots in the streets, transitions from where-we-are-today to where-we-want-to-be-tomorrow.
So check us out, Egypt.
Cause you could do worse.