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.

American-flag-America

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 …

 

Health Care for the Poor Still Elusive

English: President Barack Obama's signature on...
English: President Barack Obama’s signature on the health insurance reform bill at the White House, March 23, 2010. The President signed the bill with 22 different pens. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We have the Affordable Care Act and we still have literally millions of people who cannot afford and will not have, health care.

How in the world can that be? The Affordable Care Act was supposed to help that very demographic, wasn’t it?

A New York Times article said that nearly two-thirds of poor, black people, and single mothers, in addition to one-half of all low-wage earners, will still not have access to health care. (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/03/health/millions-of-poor-are-left-uncovered-by-health-law.html?pagewanted=1&_r=0&nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20131003).

The vast number of these people live in states controlled by Republicans, and in which those lawmakers have voted against expanding Medicaid. “The 26 states that have rejected the Medicaid expansion are
home to about half of the country’s population, but about 68 percent of
poor, uninsured blacks and single mothers. About 60 percent of the
country’s uninsured working poor are in those states. Among those
excluded are about 435,000 cashiers, 341,000 cooks and 253,000 nurses’
aides.” said the NYT article.

While some are appalled that so many people will still be unable to get health care, others are not surprised.

Some say that the Affordable Care Act was designed not to help poor black people, or single mothers, or low-wage earners. It was designed, they say, to benefit low wage earners who happen to be white.

It is sadly ironic that the majority of the poor people whom this act was ostensibly created to help are apparently black.  They live primarily in Southern states where, again, Republican lawmakers have balked at extending Medicaid, citing cost.  The American citizens who will still not be able to get health care, many of them, make too much money to qualify for Medicaid but not enough money to keep them above the poverty line, making them eligible to qualify for subsidies, which the ACA is providing.

It is equally as ironic that some lawmakers feel justified in not supporting the expansion of Medicaid because they seem to feel that the poor are poor because they are lazy and want to take advantage of working Americans. There is great disdain for the poor, blaming them for their poverty and spreading this belief so that great numbers of people buy into the hype.  While in one breath, lawmakers will say that in America, democracy makes it possible for “all” people to be successful and therefore, not poor,  in another breath, they will support a system which is not democratic at all, but, rather, oligarchic in nature, supporting the expansion of the very rich on the backs of poor people and their labor.

With these millions of people still unable to get affordable health care, the health of the very poor will still be jeopardized. Children will still be in danger from getting sick and possibly dying from preventable and treatable diseases, and adults will not be able to get the care and medication they need to, likewise, get treatable diseases diagnosed or to get medications that will keep those diseases from killing them.

All of the showboating on television, with Tea Party Republicans saying that they are speaking on behalf of “the American people” has been disturbing and disgusting. “The American people,” for them, obviously do not include poor black and brown people, single mothers, and people unable to make a living wage.

The politicians in Washington are playing a game with the lives of all Americans as they fight like children having temper tantrums, working to defund the Affordable Care Act. It wouldn’t be so troubling if Tea Party Republicans had a viable health care plan in place to replace the ACA, one that would help people like these millions of black, brown and poor people.

They are not concerned with that part of America’s population, though. These politicians are fighting for is a group of people who object to big government and the role big government has historically played in taking care of “the least of these.”  They do not have the slightest concern, say, for the American citizen who needs treatment and medication for high blood pressure, or for the child who has an abscessed tooth, and who happens to be poor.

It is a scary thing to be poor in such a wealthy land. It is scary and troubling and frustrating to work, as the work ethic says we must – and still be deemed unworthy to make a living wage. The government shut-down, forced by the opposition between Tea Party Republicans who are fighting President Obama by opposing the ACA, is making poor people suffer even more as their salaries are being withheld.

Nobody cares about you if you’re poor – not even here in America, where our political system is supposed to be “exceptional” and above that in all other developed countries.  The fact that many Americans are a paycheck away from being put out on the street, should be troubling to a group of people who say they govern for “the American people.”

Apparently, that’s not true. They govern for “some” American people. Black, brown and poor people of all colors, as well as people struggling to make ends meet, just don’t seem to matter. No matter what lofty words are used to describe America’s democratic ideals, her oligarchic reality says that there is a serious chasm between the ideal and the real.

Poor people count. Black and brown people count. Single mothers …count.

Somebody ought to remind Congress of the same because it seems that millions of Americans have been forgotten.

A candid observation…