I posed two questions when we were last together¹:
- How far from democracy have we fallen? And,
- Assuming we are sliding ever closer to a state of tyranny, what can we do about it?
The data suggest overwhelmingly that we’ve moved an ever-increasing distance from democracy — and even farther in the last seven days. Let’s consider three events from just last week:
- The president fired his acting Director of National Intelligence, Joseph Maguire, a day after he briefed the House Intelligence Committee on the intelligence community’s findings about Russia’s ongoing efforts to interfere with our presidential elections, Russia’s interest in helping the president win re-election (which may or may not be true), and Russia’s interference in the Democratic primaries to favor Bernie Sanders, likely to help the president’s re-election chances. At a rally on Friday in Nevada, the president blew off the widespread findings of Russia’s interference in our elections by exclaiming that ‘it’s disinformation.’ ‘Aren’t people bored?’ he asked in reference to this ongoing, serious threat. (Russia’s efforts to undermine our democratic elections are boring? How about frightening.)
- The president verbally attacked U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, the judge overseeing the sentencing of Roger Stone, who had been convicted of lying to protect the president. While explaining that he believes Stone should be ‘exonerated,’ he claimed to be the nation’s ‘chief law enforcement officer.’ Law enforcement is, indeed, a role of the president and the Executive Branch. But exonerating a friend convicted of lying to protect you seems unlike law enforcement and more like displaying personal preferences for cronies. At least that’s how it looks.
- The Washington Post reported on Friday that the president instructed his White House personnel chief to identify and purge officials who are ‘not sufficiently loyal’ to the president.² ‘Purge’ as in ‘fire.’
While Russia tampering with our elections generates abject terror, the last event was the most chilling. Those words — not sufficiently loyal — brought two questions immediately to mind:
- What qualifies as ‘sufficiently loyal’? And,
- What’s to prevent the president from broadening his search for not-sufficiently-loyal people beyond the White House and the government? What’s to prevent anyone — with an emphasis on anyone — from being accused and/or harassed for not being sufficiently loyal to the president? (Perhaps an IRS audit?) History will tell us that this is how tyranny starts and free speech ends.
Far-fetched you say? Just ask the hundreds of people in the federal government, universities, film industry and elsewhere accused by Joseph McCarthy, the Republican senator from Wisconsin, of being among ‘the enemies within’ in his single-minded quest to rid the country of communists in the 1950s. Ask those who lost their job, were blacklisted, and/or were forced to leave the country because one guy went on a crusade to find and eradicate communism from the United States. He could not have done it alone. Those in Congress were silent during McCarthy’s 5-year reign of terror. Their acquiescence, their complicity, was essential to providing McCarthy the power, the self-given authority, the validation he needed to find and purge every last commie from the country. (For the record, McCarthy was later censured by the Senate by a vote of 67–22. But this was far too little and far too late for those caught up in his self-serving and highly-destructive investigation.)³
Does this sound familiar? It should. The response among Republicans in Congress to the three major events last week: crickets. Not one word of disagreement, not one cry for justice, not one plea to address the threat Russia is posing to our democracy. Nothing. Which only served to reaffirm the president’s belief that he now has carte blanche, that there are no boundaries to the power he has been given by the Republican senate. That his growing monarch-like rule of the country is justified.
Regardless of your political affiliation or feelings about the president, I hope you agree that our country was a somewhat better place a mere week ago. Because unchecked Russian interference in our democratic process, the belief that the president has the right to interfere with the judicial system, and that purging the government of people insufficiently loyal to the president are deeply frightening. Beyond comprehension, actually, especially when the deafening silence from the Republicans in the Senate and the House is considered. These events — and the silence with which they have been met — are at the core of the definition of ‘tyranny’¹ and significant factors to our move away from democracy.
So, how far have we fallen from democracy? Miles. And more each day.
We must act. All of us. Republicans, Democrats, independents, those who adore the president, those who don’t. Anyone who believes in democracy and the rule of law. Any parent who wants the country to remain a democracy for their children. Anyone who abhors the prospect of living under anyone other than a constitutionally-defined president. Anyone who believes that democracy is special and needs to be protected. Everyone who has the country to thank for their freedom. Anyone in law enforcement. Every patriot. Every member of the military, past and present. Every federal, state and local employee. Every elected official who swore an oath to protect the constitution. Anyone who believes that free speech, indeed freedom, includes the right to disagree. Anyone who sees ‘loyalty’ as something to be earned, not mandated, nor a requirement of employment. Every American. Because the threat to our way of life is real. It’s happening out in the open for all of us to see. And if left unchecked, it’s going to get worse.
This is not a Republican vs. Democrat thing. This is our American way of life vs. unbridled power. I hope those who love the president can see this. No one would stand for this if it were happening at work or if it were happening directly to them. Human Resources would be besieged with complaints and the company would face a rash of lawsuits if it were. We should not stand for it, either.
What’s to be done? Start by contacting your elected officials — especially Republicans in Congress who have not posed any objections to our fall from grace — and explain your concerns. Do so in plain, unemotional language. Speak slowly and loudly so your message is understood. Enlist your friends and family to do the same. Every elected official is motivated to remain in office. Make sure they know that their job, like the future of our country, hangs in the balance.
Share your disappointment about the lack of action by your elected officials with everyone you know on social media. Once you’ve done that, share your disappointment about the lack of action of other elected officials across the country the same way. Sadly, there are plenty to choose from. Let’s be sure people know who they are and what they have yet to do.
Consider writing a letter to the editor of your local paper. Or an Op-Ed piece, explaining your experience, what you’re feeling, and why it’s important. In times like these, many of us may feel alone. Help others know that this is not the case. Because, according to most polls, those feeling alienated and fearful of the country’s future number in the millions. We are, to be sure, the majority. Let’s act like it.
If you are a member of a union, petition the board to take a position advocating for democracy. If you feel so inclined, mobilize others to do the same.
These are only some ideas. Get creative. Get motivated. Let’s not take this lying down. You can be a huge fan of the president and still not like where we are headed. I’m sure there are many who feel this way.
We are not powerless. We can inform, inspire and motivate others. That’s the essence of democracy. Something that’s still within our reach. For now, anyway.