The Spirit of America, Compromised

I am an African American woman who has studied the history of racism in this country, has watched the products of systemic racism ruin lives, from black and brown and poor children getting inferior educations, to the continued slaughter of unarmed black people by law enforcement officers, to qualified black people being passed over for good jobs.

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I have watched mothers of slain children find strength from somewhere to keep on walking and working. I have watched young African Americans weep in frustration and anger caused by the tormenting pain that racism causes. I have cringed over policies passed by local, state and federal government, including voter suppression laws, health care and the refusal to expand Medicaid, to slashes in regulations which were put in place to protect the environment and therefore, the people who are adversely affected by a polluted ecosystem.

I still feel outrage over the way Puerto Rico was treated after Hurricane Maria devasted that tiny island; the image of the president throwing paper towels to people who needed electricity, medicine, food and American support still evokes a reaction within my soul. I have watched the rise of white nationalism – which has never been gone but has merely remained below ground for the most part – arrogantly flouting its belief system and daring anyone to say anything about it.

I have watched the treatment of immigrants, called all kinds of names by this administration and supporters of it; I have listened to stories about lawmakers who have had the gall to criticize and put down young students who have decided they are tired of the specious argument that “good people with guns” can keep crime down,  even as madmen and women storm public spaces with semi-automatic weapons to literally mow people whom they do not know down, like they are pesky weeds in the garden of human life, unworthy of staying alive.

The name-calling, the blatant arrogance shown by government officials even as corruption is uncovered, the apparent devotion to protecting the “good ol’ boys” club – all of it – has been disturbing and troubling.

I have watched lawmakers –  Democrat and Republican alike – pass a tax bill which has made corporations smile, but which promises to do little to nothing to ease the plight and the pain of the poor in this country.

The America I knew is gone. With all of its faults, that America at least had lawmakers who respected the legacy of the country and the office of the presidency, but what I see now is a president who seemingly wants absolute power and an impotent Congress which is letting him do what he wants. They say it’s because they respect him. I think not. I think they are operating as they are because there is abject bullying in the White House and they are afraid.

The American electorate voted this president into office. In spite of what seems to be certain Russian meddling in the 2016 election, the Congress has seemed not to care. The president certainly seems unconcerned with the fact that this country underwent a cyber-attack by the Russians. The obsequiousness of this president to Vladimir Putin has been nothing short of disgusting; in all of his rants, Putin is the only one who has not been called an insulting name, even though plenty of American civil servants have been totally humiliated by the name-calling. Not only does this president call names, but he lies with abandon, and few of his supporters say anything about it, at least publicly.

Guided by words found in the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution, this country has felt like a democracy, even though in practice it really has not been. But leaders up to this point have seemingly respected the notion of democracy and have valued the structure of government put in place by the Founding Fathers that were supposed to insure that this nation would never descend into fascism.

That structure, whoever, is crumbling. This country’s spirit of freedom is being crushed by a lurking spirit of authoritarianism. According to Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, authors of How Democracies Die, there are four indicators off authoritarian behavior which appear when democracies are in trouble: 1) Rejection of (or weak commitment to) democratic rules of the game; 2) denial of the legitimacy of political opponents, 3) toleration and/or encouragement of violent, and 4) a readiness to curtail civil liberties of opponents, including the media. (pp. 23-24)

Though Mr. Trump’s behavior is troubling, his behavior is not as troubling as is the lack of “democratic” or “patriotic” response to what he is saying and doing.  A large swath of Americans are apparently fine with what he is doing; they seem to be unaware that the democracy we have all loved for so long is in mortal danger.

We in America seem to feel that our democracy is fail-safe, but no democracy can claim that classification. Democracies have broken down (in favor of authoritarian regimes) in Argentina, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Ghana, Greece, Guatemala, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, Thailand, Turkey and Uruguay. The breakdown of democracy in those countries came about as a result of violent coups d’état.

But democracies in other countries broke down as the result of people voting autocratic leaders into power. That happened in Venezuela, Georgia, Hungary, Turkey, Ukraine, Poland Russia and Germany.

Both Levitsky and Ziblatt, and Professor Tom Snyder who wrote On Tyranny say that the breakdown of many Democracies begins at the ballot box.

It used to be that I and many others had confidence in the government put together by the Founding Fathers. In spite of flaws, that very structure was comforting. That we had “freedom of the press” was a godsend that many, including myself, never thought would be challenged.

But our freedoms, our capacity to be free are compromised and the trajectory of the attacks on basic American freedoms seems to be increasing in a negative direction, away from the guarantee of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” that our organizational documents tout as being a mainstay of American life and citizenship.

The lawmakers are quiet. The restless white nationalists are loud and getting louder, more arrogant and bolder in their attacks on everything that is not white. “We the people” live in perpetual anxiety about what this president will and will not do. This country does not feel safe; the underclasses seem less protected than ever before as the president and his minions are making America a laughing stock all over the world.

It is scary and troubling.

A candid observation…

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