Mutual tolerance from people of different political ideologies is one of the most important cornerstones of true democracy. These guardrails of democracy are so engrained in the American psyche that it can be seen at even the lowest levels of city government. The use of checks and balances and political norms keep America in democratic stability and keep the populace happy with its government. The use of bipartisan committees helps avoid severe group polarization (Sunstein 2017). When different ideologies come together on a single issue, it creates a more well-rounded outcome.
On February 20, 2019, the Shelby County Board of Commissioners in Memphis, TN heard a discussion presented by Ms. Jessica Indingaro of the Shelby County Attorney’s Office and Ms. Natalie McKinney, a new member of the Juvenile Justice Consortium. Ms. Indingaro and McKinney proposed various changes and reconstructions of the countywide Juvenile Justice Consortium. The women proposed a resolution that would allow “greater emphasis on community oversight” into the juvenile system of Shelby County. The overall goal of the consortium is to ensure that juvenile offenders are able to fully reintegrate into society after they have served their time. This includes obtaining skills such as employability. The plan set forth by this resolution is not only a local plan, but one that reflects a “now terminated… Agreement between the United States Department of Justice, Memphis & Shelby County Juvenile Court Judge, and the previous Shelby County Mayor”. The important part of the discussion was the description of who would be on the consortium. It includes several voting and nonvoting members, of varying political and civilian backgrounds, such as the Shelby County Sherriff’s Department. The resolution draft put forth by Jessica Indingaro calls for “nine demonstrated community advocates or experts in areas relevant to juvenile justice issues, as well as… both individuals under 21 and parents or guardians who have has points of contact with delinquency issues in Memphis and Shelby County Juvenile Court”. The ideas put forth were very well received, with one commissioner stating he has no doubt the resolution would pass unanimously.
Commissioner Mark Wright (Rep., Shelby County District 3) inquires about interaction and overlap between the proposed new Juvenile Justice Consortium and preestablished committees. This shows a backbone of democracy at work, as outlined by Levitsky and Ziblatt’s How Democracies Die (2018). By creating a bipartisan panel, the members are forced to view each other as legitimate equals, not as hardcore rivals, defined as mutual tolerance (Levitsky and Ziblatt 2018). This tolerance leads to normally bipartisan rivals becoming less aggressive with each other, a term called “forbearance”. This can, itself, be seen in the Shelby County Board of Commissioners. With five Republican members and eight Democratic members, if the members of the Board did not put aside bipartisan differences, nothing would get done. However, through working together, it has been seen that colleagues on opposite sides of the aisle begin to see each other as equals and possibly even friends (Levitsky and Ziblatt 2018). It parallels methods one sees used in the United States federal government, such as when a special board or committee is put together.
It also protects against extreme group polarization, as outlined in Sunstein’s Going to Extremes: How Like Minds Unite and Divide. (2009). Sunstein shows that in sample groups from the federal government, groups made up of members of the same political leaning are more likely to experience severe polarization, with the opinions of the individual members become more resolute in their extremism than when not in a group. This further shows why mutual tolerance is important. Imagine a world where if a person were of a different political ideology, you would not speak to them. Imagine what Congress and government would be like then; nothing would ever get done. By working together and collaborating, it prevents any type of undue bureaucratic resistance that would cause resolutions to be mired in mounds of paperwork and stall tactics. Many times, we as Americans have seen many viable ideas never come to fruition because of stubborn bipartisanism. Levitsky and Ziblatt give many examples of when this has happened in American history and how it has harmed the ideas of democracy.
The ideas of mutual tolerance and the avoidance of extreme group polarization in government go hand in hand in preventing backsliding from Democratic norms. Politicians and the like who actively work with each other as opposed to actively against each other are exemplary of what Americans expect from our democracy. People like this show that democracy is truly a system were anyone’s voice can be heard and matters. The willingness of elected officials to soften their views or resolutions in order to compromise with their Democratic or Republican colleagues is essential to the survival of democracy, democratic government, and the prevention of gradual democratic erosion.