After the 1787 Constitutional Convention, Benjamin Franklin was asked whether the U.S. would be a monarchy or a republic. “A republic, if you can keep it,” was his response. Two centuries later, at Harvard’s 1989 Commencement, Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto echoed Franklin’s warning: “We must realize that democracy … can be fragile.”
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern offered a similar reminder at Commencement on Thursday, updating the theme for our times. When facts and fiction have become a matter of opinion and the trust that underlies democracies is being eroded, blind faith in the resilience of democratic governance is shortsighted, she said.
“It ignores the fact that the foundation of a strong democracy includes trust in institutions, experts, and government — and that this can be built up over decades but torn down in mere years,” Ardern said. “It ignores what happens when, regardless of how long your democracy has been tried and tested, facts are turned into fiction and fiction turned into fact. … It ignores the reality of what we are now being confronted by every single day.”