Requiem for America’s Mythical Democracy

            The debacle of the Trump impeachment process ended, for all intents and purposes, with the GOP-led Senate refusing to allow witnesses and documents which were said to support the charges of the president’s abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

In spite of some very few die-hard optimists who hoped for a miracle of justice, the GOP senators followed the lead of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. In spite of some Republican senators admitting that the president had, in fact, done something wrong, his offenses did not rise to the level of deserving impeachment.

When the president is acquitted of wrongdoing, he will be free to continue his disembowelment of the American democracy as we have known it, but he is not the primary source of this state of being in this country. If the truth be told, even the Founders did not wholly believe in the concept of democracy, where everyone, rich and poor, black and white, male and female, would have an equal voice and equal rights. The concept of “one person, one vote” was understood from this country’s birth to mean “one white wealthy man, one vote.”

The Founding Fathers had problems with what the phrase “we the people” meant. While it was an idealistic goal to have all of the people of the nation participate in its governance, the truth of the matter is that many of the founders thought that to be not only impossible but impractical. The problem was that the country was set up to be run by a small group of wealthy white men. The masses of people, who steadily increased the ranks of the poor, were a threat to what the founders wanted this country would be. Alexander Hamilton said “the people are turbulent and changing; they seldom judge or determine right. Give, therefore, to the first class a distinct permanent share in the government.” (Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States)

It was the wealthy, therefore, wealthy, white, Protestant males who set this country up with the firm belief that this country should function as an oligarchy.

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Democracy, they thought, was a problem, because a true democracy required something of the masses that they often did not want or could not handle. In the end, the masses were not able to govern themselves, and hence, would lean toward an authoritarian government. Hamilton’s assertion that the masses were turbulent and changing supported the contention made years later by Shawn Rosenberg who said: “human brains are not made for self-rule.” (https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2019/09/08/shawn-rosenberg-democracy-228045) The chasm between the poor and the wealthy makes the capacity for more turbulence all the greater, leading to the poor fighting against each other and blaming each other for a piece of economic power that was never intended to be passed on to them.

            We in America have basked in a sort of pseudo-democracy for years, but the powers that be, the very wealthy, have always been in the middle of government, leading the way and calling the shots. Presidents, including Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Richard Nixon, and Lyndon Johnson have all exercised excessive power – an abuse of power according to the US Constitution, yet people have acquiesced and given in because they (we) have trusted wealth and the dream of becoming wealthy more than they (we) have trusted our collective power. Democracies die, say experts, not from guns and missiles, but through the acquiescence of people, people who vote them into office and keep them there.

            The United States Senate’s refusal to call witnesses in the impeachment of the current president is not surprising, given that they represent the power class and have grown wary of so many people of color coming into the country and, they believe, threatening their power and therefore, their wealth. Making America “great” again is about fixing what many believe to be the skewing of the American government model – where wealthy, white men govern the masses and it seems that many in the ranks of the masses want to be controlled and led rather than taking on the responsibility of living and working in a true democracy.

With the president’s almost sure acquittal next week, one thing is certain: the façade of this government being a well-oiled, functioning democracy will finish the crumbling that began years ago, only to be accelerated by the Trump presidency. America the mythical democracy is in decline. What will rise up in its place is yet to be seen, but it will surely not be a place where “one person, one vote” is the norm, and where “all” people are considered to be equal.

But then, that wasn’t the plan as the country was formed. As the guardrails of the myth of democracy come crumbling down, it will be interesting to see what kind of government America really is.

A candid observation.

Watching Democracy Crumble

             I have been silent, not writing much, watching what is going on in our country. It is troubling and frightening. It has been disappointing to see Republican lawmakers allow the president to run roughshod over the constitutional requirements of those who have been elected to office; they are supposed to “protect and defend” that document, which I call “sacred.” Continue reading “Watching Democracy Crumble”

Denying a Creeping Autocracy

             Whenever anyone in this country talks about what is happening here and compares it to what happened in other democracies that fell to an autocratic leader, there is stern rebuke and criticism. Just as we deny our racism and sexism and the other “isms” that plague our lives, we are in denial now that there is a serious transformation happening in our government – and it isn’t good.

Our “democracy” is undergoing a radical change under the leadership of the current president, and while, in anticipation of the upcoming 2020 general election, the battle cry of “never socialism” is being tossed about more and more, in fact, there ought to be an equal groundswell, a counter-argument, where we  declare that we will never be a dictatorship.

In his book Hitler’s American Model: The United States and the Making of Nazi Race Law, author James Q. Whitman writes that “the same aspects of American life that appealed to Nazis seventy-five years ago are with us again.” House Majority Whip James Clyburn D-SC) and said that the current president and his family are “one of the greatest threat to democracy” he has seen in his lifetime,  correctly noting that the German people elected Hitler to be chancellor. (https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/congress/clyburn-calls-trump-family-greatest-threats-democracy-my-lifetime-n985131)

Dr. Tom Snyder, in his book, On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century makes the same observation. The history of modern democracy, says Snyder, is one of “decline and fall,” and he notes how “European democracies collapsed into right-wing authoritarianism and fascism in the 1920s and 30s.” He says that both fascism and communism “were responses to globalization, and says that while Americans “might be tempted to think that our democratic heritage automatically protects us from such threats,” history shows that to be a dangerous way of thinking.

Our country has never been a pure democracy, not if one believes that in a democracy a basic foundational principle is “egalitarianism.” Frederick Douglass recognized that America’s founding documents, including its Constitution, were “flawed from the beginning” because they were not inclusive of all races, religions, and gender. From the beginning, the wonderful phrase “all men are created equal” was tainted by an underlying belief in white supremacy and all that that ideological system includes.

In spite of our stated belief in democracy, the fact is that democracies too often fall to authoritarian figures. Snyder notes that “most of the power of authoritarianism is freely given.” He calls it “anticipatory obedience,” and says that it is a political tragedy. It is not a new phenomenon, but I at least had hope that the American governmental structure, including checks and balances, would prevent our country from beginning its downward spiral to authoritarianism.

The fact of the matter is that up to this point, checks and balances have failed; the only arm of the federal government which seems serious in upholding the US Constitution on that principle is the US Congress, now dominated by Democrats. The Republican-led and controlled Congress were disappointingly sycophantic in their blind allegiance and support of the president.

The GOP lawmakers have been following along because such a large portion of the GOP base is in favor and is supportive of everything this president does, even if it adversely affects them and their lives, but nobody is really talking about that. Our media spends too much of its time talking about how despicable the president is. Too few people care.

When democracies have fallen in other countries, the masses who have supported them have often been surprised, saying that they never thought “it” could happen to them. Their surprise is reminiscent of those in whose neighborhoods there is a violent crime. Too many of us live in bubbles that are comfortable and which feel safe and we like to stay inside of them, closing our eyes and shutting our ears to what is happening around us. In so doing, we make ourselves vulnerable to attack and in the matter of government, a demolition of democracy. Dictatorships led by authoritarian leaders and a group of lackeys are not prone to helping the masses live better lives. Their concern is for their own accumulation of power and wealth.

America is in a bad place, but too many Americans will not own it and therefore are ill-equipped to fight it. I hope that this period of time passes with at least a smidgen of our democracy in place. Democracies rise and fall; that is a historical reality. My prayer is that our democracy can survive this assault and attack and that the American people – all of us – will still be able to claim this country as our own once this administration has run its course.

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…

Is America’s Democracy in Trouble?

The antics and behavior that are coming out of the White House are disturbing on many levels, but one of the most troubling is that it feels like this country is moving toward becoming an autocratic state.

A survivor of the Buchenwald concentration camp during the Holocaust, architect Stephen Jacobs, said in a recent interview that the “rise of Donald Trump is reminiscent of the years that led to the Nazi takeover of Germany.”  (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-5596737/Holocaust-survivor-says-Trumps-America-reminds-years-lead-Nazi-takeover.html)

At the time that Hitler rose to power, Germany was experiencing economic, social and political unrest. Hitler seized the moment, telling Germans that he could restore their country to its former greatness. The people bought his argument, and the fall of civilized government resulted in the murders of over 6 million Jewish people.

What is astounding is not so much that the president is doing what he is doing, but that so many people seem not to care. From the Congress – representatives and senators alike – to Evangelical Christians, to masses of people who like it that he “tells it like it is,” there seem to be few people in power – politically or morally – who have the best interests of “the least of these” at heart.

These people turn a blind eye to the role of the Congress to check the raw ascent of power of the Executive branch of our government. Evangelical Christians, who have been known to be deeply judgmental of all kinds of people for behavior much less offensive and troubling than that of the president, are silent and acquiescent.

It has been amazing to listen to people defend this president at every turn; nothing, it seems, not even the cyber-attack of our voting system by a known enemy, has been enough to inspire people to do something to put the brakes on what seems like a train running downhill, spiraling out of control.

We thought that our government was immune to becoming autocratic. We thought that our Constitution and our professed love of “liberty and justice for all” were enough to incubate us from encroaching fascism. It appears that many Conservatives feel like there is no danger of our democracy falling into disrepair or ruination. But democracies, historically, have fallen, following a course much like the one on which America now finds itself.

What is worrying is that the only people who might seem to not have to worry are the very rich. This country has not been a “democracy” for some time; it has been a plutocracy, with a very few really wealthy people making policies for everyone else. But even that number of wealthy people, in control of the lives of the masses, is dwindling; we are more an oligarchy now than ever before.

Oligarchies do not care about the masses.

During the Holocaust, Hitler and his minions made decisions about who was worthy to live and who was not. The Jews were certainly deemed unworthy, but so were people with disabilities, people with mental illnesses, gay people, gypsies, twins, priests, and other groups, were murdered. It is estimated that 5 million non-Jews died under Hitler.

Germany, using the science developed in America that formed the foundation of the eugenics movement, made it its cause to eliminate those who were not the right kind of “white” person – i.e., those with Nordic features.

It feels like everyone, with the exception of that very small group of wealthy white people, are in danger from the way this administration is running the country, and none of the people who we might have thought would defend the masses from this kind of tyranny are stepping forward.

It is difficult to understand how “people of faith” can marginalize the directives given for how to create a “Beloved Community” by Jesus the Christ. Jesus is far removed from what is going on, it seems, and very few people are working to bring Jesus of Nazareth back to the center of who we are.

It feels like we are on a collision course with tragedy, and in this, the so-called “land of the free and home of the brave,” that ought not be the case.

A candid observation …