You may have heard that Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus will have its final performance in May. The circus, an attraction that used to draw crowds to fill the big tops and employ a thousand people, is closing after 146 years of entertainment. In 1971, the circus was sold for $40 million but now it is months away from disbanding.
I thought of this over the weekend when I was a scavenger in the shell of our Kmart store, now holding the final days of sales before it closes. In 1990, Kmart was the second largest retailer in the United States, just behind Sears. Kmart had 2,165 stores in 2000 and now it has less than 800 and falling. Blockbuster had over 8,000 stores at one point before its closing.
We know that just a shadow of these businesses remain today, but in their prime it was inconceivable to think of their demise. The circus, Sears and others had been around generations, and most thought they would continue throughout their lifetimes. Entropy is a powerful force, and if you do not tend to the culture and organization, death is more certain than life.
We have been a great nation for 240 years, but nothing guarantees that democracy will continue to flourish on its own. Democracy requires attention, passion, involvement and courage. It requires people willing to make sacrifices to promote it. Don’t let “government of the people, by the people and for the people” become a circus and follow its fate.