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GUEST COMMENTARY: Vote against attack on democracy

September 28, 2018
By JOHN O'NEILL , Lake Placid News

It should be obvious by now, at least to all but Trump's most zealous supporters, that our democracy is suffering death by a thousand cuts, and the midterm elections in November represent the last chance for moderate Americans - left and right - to stop some of the bleeding.

Many moderate liberals and conservatives voted for him, not because they held his supremacist views but because they believed his brash style could shake things up for the better, or because he wasn't Hillary. It is my hope that these moderates will now have the courage to admit - if only in the privacy of the voting booth - that it was a dangerous gamble, and we - like much of the rest of the world - are now losing faith in American democracy itself.

Empires and democracies have come and gone. Most democracies do not die at the end of a gun. They die slow deaths because their legislatures allow or encourage incremental changes, or because citizens become oblivious to insidious changes in rights and protections. Trump has definitely shaken things up, including respect for the institutions (like our judicial system, elections, security agencies) and principles (like the desire to compromise, belief in objective facts, mutual tolerance) that make this messy democracy possible.

We are now so entrenched in our respective positions that, pro or con, we all view any given presidential action in mutually incomprehensible ways. For example, it's obvious that Trump's base saw his recent attacks on mainstream media (except Fox) as "enemies of the people" as justified. Many more of us see those same attacks as just the latest example of a dangerous creep toward authoritarianism. Millions of his supporters see only an unconventional politician telling off the world and elites acting very much like the man in charge - a strong man, if you will. Millions more of us, the silent majority who still believe in liberal democracy, see a Third World-like strongman who clearly admires dictators, demands unchallenged loyalty from subordinates and seeds his administration with family members. He exaggerates and ignores factual evidence to a degree that would seem laughable if not shrugged off by millions of fellow Americans. Critics are not to be trusted, juries are not to be trusted, journalists are not to be trusted, our national security leaders are not to be trusted, and on and on. This is classic autocratic behavior that our primary system has always protected us against until the Republican National Committee gave in to xenophobic populism and made a demagogue their candidate.

And now our Republican representatives in Congress do nothing to seriously challenge these dangers posed to democracy. The Constitution built a government with checks and balances to prevent dictatorial rule by kings. But our sitting Republican congressional representatives are made impotent by two converging ultra-wealthy dynasties: the Trumps and the Kochs. An authoritarian Trump has cowed this Republican Congress much like he cowed so many contenders in the presidential campaign through demagoguery, decree by Twitter and a willingness to publicly insult anyone who disagrees with him. The extreme libertarian Koch brothers have funneled millions through various PACs into influencing congressional Republicans.

But while it is easy to lay blame at the feet of deserving national parties and self-serving politicians, it is ultimately we citizens who decide - whether we vote or not - what kind of country we want. Yes, even non-voters help decide the state of democracy by leaving the responsibility to everyone else, and the U.S. ranks at the BOTTOM of current democracies for voter turnout! The number of eligible voters who do NOT vote for president is shameful: 81 million in 2008, 92 million in 2012, 91 million in 2016. Non-voters in midterm elections are even worse: 127 million in 2010, 143 million in 2014.

If we don't exercise this most basic of democratic rights by voting in November, we will ALL suffer the continued loss of democratic rights, even if we are:

one of Trump's many initial Democratic or Republican voters who, though concerned about his brash, narcissistic style, still think we should give him more time to succeed;

registered Republicans who, though disgusted by the daily childish tweets of the "leader of the free world," still always votes the party line;

Bernie supporters who believe government should help ensure rights and freedom for all people;

conservatives who see government as stifling free enterprise and individual liberty;

passionate Green Party members justifiably concerned about rollback of environmental protections;

people of any color victimized by primitive tribal mentality that ignores individual humanity;

young adults clueless about what is happening to the country they will inherit.

It is because of the growing awareness of the insidious threats to democracy taking place that I am encouraged to hear about so many Republicans willing to look past automatic party loyalty and misguided campaign rhetoric and vote for Democrats in November, if for no other reason than to stop the hemorrhaging of the rule of law until we can stabilize the vital signs. Yes, both sides can point to endless examples of hypocrisy, and the Democratic Party holds no magic panacea for healing America. ALL parties have much soul-searching to do going forward. But for the moment, the most immediately powerful message we must all - left, right and center - be concerned about is to vote for a better balance in the makeup of Congress in November to serve as a check on this two-fold attack on democracy: one from an authoritarian president noisily manipulating media attention, the other from ultra-wealthy libertarians quietly manipulating congressional Republicans.

If you do not vote in November, you will be making the president, Congress, and the Koch brothers very happy in their uneasy alliance to remove dissent. If you do vote, you may very well be preserving for your grandchildren the democratic principles that give this complex society a relatively peaceful way to manage our differences. Besides, we owe them something other than a $23 trillion debt.

(John O'Neill lives in Saranac Lake.)

Sources:

Flake, Jeff, "Conscience of a Conservative: A Rejection of Destructive Politics and a Return to Principle," 2017, Random House

Levitsky and Ziblatt, "How Democracies Die," 2018, Crown Publishing

McDonald, Michael, United States Election Project, 2018, electprojec.org

Maclean, Nancy, "Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right's Stealth Plan for America," 2017, Viking Press

Desilver, Drew, "US trails most developed countries in voter turnout," Pew Research Center, 2018, www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/05/21/u-s-voter-turnout-trails-most-developedcountries/

 
 

 

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