When does a democracy die? At what point in time do historians document the rupture? And when do the writers pen the epitaph of a people’s struggles for self-government? This has been the debate that has raged over Venezuela for years. With each pen stroke enacting the tyrant’s new laws; every manipulated election; and the latest in the endless parade of constitutional breaches, the democrats of the free world have pronounced Venezuela’s democracy dead.
So now again.
This week the electoral council suspended Venezuela’s recall referendum against the president, as well as the regional elections of governors. The reason was simple enough – they were going to lose – and lose big. Venezuela’s exhausted populace was preparing to hand their government a scathing indictment of their misrule at the voting booth – the first and last line of defense of ordinary people. To be sure, by any measure Venezuela’s democracy has been moribund for many, many years. So we should not be surprised at the withdrawal of the last worn and tattered veil which hid the despots’ nakedness.
We should however sorrow.
Because a democracy is a precious thing; sort of like a beautiful, epic saga. Those of us who write know well the tools and tricks of our trade, which when used correctly deliver unto the world a masterpiece which enriches the lives of our readers, and makes human society better. Chapter breaks tell the evolution of the story. Well placed beats give it a sense of rhythm. Conflict gives it meaning. Allegories, similes, word choice and alliteration make it rich. Points of view make it personal, so that it touches the reader in their intimate of hearts – and a plot gives it a sense of direction and purpose.
We withdraw any of these at our own peril, we writers; despite the temptation. We might become intimidated by the necessary length – all those words required; all those blank white pages staring back at us, mocking us. Writing about the conflicts might take us to a place of sadness; allegories might remind us of hard times. The dialogue might seem labored or canned; requiring us to reach deeper, to try harder, to be more honest. The beats and chapter breaks could appear a lot of work, when we are tired – when we see the end such a long ways away. And the plot that develops as the story advances might become too sensitive and we fret about where it has gone; and who might object. Sex, love, lust, violence, evil – these would be the first to go, if we become afraid of our readers.
Nevertheless if we cut any corners – little by little we start to lose our stories. Who is it to say that I am wrong? It is my story after all, right? When is my writing no longer a novel? How much skimping am I allowed before my masterpiece becomes, well something else? What if I change points of view too often? What if I reduce the word count? What if I eliminate the chapters; take away the dialogue; remove the offensive parts – delete characters? What if I ignore the developing plot? What will I have then? When – I ask again – is it no longer a novel? Probably, I suppose, it’s when people stop buying it – literally and figuratively.
Like I have said, the great epic tale of self-governing Venezuela hasn’t been a book in a very long, long time. Slowly, painstakingly, piece-by-piece those who wanted to obtain absolute power peeled away parts of her story until all that was left was one word.
One simple word – “ELECTIONS” – written in bold capital letters.
Oh sure, the cover of that book was still resplendent; and it had a lot of pages to make it appear thick if looked at in the display counter without opening it. But it hasn’t been a story for a while. And now that one, last, exhausted word has finally too been deleted. It also became wearisome to those whose plan it was all along to deny the people self-government. It was only a matter of time; elections used to buttress legitimacy only lasts as long as the veil of legitimacy can be stretched to cover the emptiness beyond. Sooner or later it will fray – and rip, and it too must be discarded. And so we lift the great book, the story of the self-government of a people who loved their freedom, until they lost it; and we open it to stare blankly at the sharp white pages inside, one after the next and the next and the next, all empty from beginning to end.
And – bored – we put down the book, saddened by a story that no longer even exists, much less interests; and we turn away in search of something that fills our soul and that makes human society better. As we do so, we hesitate – mid turn – realizing that beyond the boredom, we are immensely sad.