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”
The scariest thing about all that is going on in our country politically is not the antics and behavior of the president – although he is a troubling reality – but it is the people who are lining up behind this man, willing to throw away everything they worked for in order to prove themselves to be “loyal” to the president. Continue reading “The Scariest Thing”
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.
If there was one thing I took away from my high school civics class was that America was a democracy, brilliantly constructed by men who were determined that under no circumstances could this country become an autocracy or a monarchy.
The system of checks and balances was perfect in my mind. The three branches of government would check each other to keep the power on the highest level evenly distributed and applied. Given what I had read about monarchies and Nazism and Fascism and about tyrannical rulers, I was comforted. Even though I as an African American had real and specific concerns and complaints about this government, at least it had the blueprint to be fair to all of its people.
But if we define a democracy as a government which is ruled by the people, something has been wrong from the beginning. A formal definition of democracy is “a system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives.” A democracy, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is “government by the people, especially the rule of the majority.” That’s what I learned in high school; that’s what I thought I was being taught.
And I was …except that it was an erroneous lesson from the beginning. The Founding Fathers didn’t intend for this government to really be “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” They wanted this to be a government where a few people – notably, white, wealthy, male, Protestant landowners, to rule the many. They didn’t include in their formation of this government any intention of ever including everyone. Some people were more worthy of governing and some’s place was to “be governed.”
The right to vote – I thought the right of all Americans to vote – was at the heart of what made this government different. One person, one vote became the ideal for fledgling democracies all over the world. But from the beginning of our existence as a nation, the right to vote has been compromised, messed with and messed over. The recent mid-term elections, with wide-spread voter suppression, is not a new thing – which says to me that while some of us are alarmed at what is going on in our federal government, the cry (my cry, specifically) that our democracy is in danger of failing, is not true.
We have celebrated a “democracy” that never was.
From our beginning, people in power – most specifically white men – have done all they could to keep the masses from voting. Ari Berman, in his excellent book, Give Us the Ballot, describes the brouhaha that developed after the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. It seems that many white folks were appalled at the notion that black people should have the same right to vote as did white people and they did all they could to keep that from happening – in spite of the VRA. President Lyndon B. Johnson, who pushed for the passage of the VRA in spite of the huge price he paid politically, said that “the vote is the most powerful instrument devised for breaking down injustice.” But if my reading of history is correct, a large contingency of white people in general, and white politicians in particular, had little to no interest in breaking down injustice, and in spite of claiming that they lived in a democracy, and in spite of taking oaths to defend, preserve and protect the United States Constitution, they had no intention of doing so.
I was always appalled at the tricks devised and carried out to keep black people from voting, but as I have learned more about the efforts to keep America’s power in the hands of white people, my anger has only increased. In Berman’s book, he describes black people going to the polls to vote – people who had previously voted – only to be told that they were no longer eligible. There were no more jars with jelly beans to count, and no more literacy tests, but the schemes to keep black people out of the “I am an American and I vote” club were there. In his chapter entitled “The Counterrevolution (II),” Berman recounts several of these instances, including that of one Willie Steen, an African American who was a Navy vet who served in Operation Desert Storm. He took his 10-year-old son with him, but when he got to his polling place to vote, he was told he could not vote because he was a convicted felon.
He was no such thing.
He tried to clear up the confusion to no avail. He left the polling place that day angry and embarrassed, concerned about how he would explain all of this to his son. It turns out that somehow, he had been confused with a convict named “Willie Osteen,” who committed a felony at the same time Willie Steen was serving in the Persian Gulf. Berman says that same type of thing was happening to African American voters throughout the state of Florida.
We all saw what happened in the midterms; we have all heard the charges of voter fraud levied against Democrats by some members of the GOP, in spite of there being no evidence of the same, while at the same time there is massive evidence of voter fraud in several locations, including North Carolina. (https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2018/07/north-carolina-early-voting-midterms-a-diabolical-new-republican-ploy-to-suppress-black-turnout.html) Those who believe that African Americans and other members of other ethnic groups are not worthy of voting have continued to do all they can to make sure they keep things like they want them – which does not include people of color.
That being said, in a country where all its citizens are not encouraged or even permitted to vote, democracy has to be called a sham.
We have all been duped.
Some kind of way, however, we have to right the wrongs and try to make this country live into the words penned by the Founding Fathers – words which, ironically, not even they intended to apply to everyone.
We are in mourning some of us, for a democracy that never was.
A candid observation …
The remembrance of the late President George H.W. Bush was moving; his good work as president – i.e., ending the Cold War, getting the Berlin Wall down – was rightfully noted. His civility was understandably emphasized in light of the total lack of civility we are experiencing now. His family was surely comforted by affirmation of his inherent goodness.
But his racism was nearly totally glossed over.
It was his administration that used the case of Willie Horton to feed into the racist fears of white people. In 1988 a group called “Americans for Bush” created and ran what came to be known as the “Willie Horton ad.” It was so reprehensible that it still gives me chills. This group of white Americans capitalized on the sad fact that a man who was given a furlough by Bush’s Democratic opponent, Michael Dukakis, raped a white woman twice while on a weekend furlough. Many governors in states across the nation granted furloughs at that time, but the impact of this ad on white people was enormous. Lee Atwater, the brains behind the Bush campaign, ended up apologizing for the ad on his deathbed, but at the time of the election, all bets were off. Dukakis was too much of a threat, and so white campaign strategists used what is being used today – race – to make sure their guy got into office.
It was disgusting.
It is beyond dispute that President Bush 41 did some really good things while in office. Nobody can dispute that. But he did some things that were not so good (https://truthout.org/articles/i-will-not-speak-kindly-of-the-dead-bush-was-detestable/?utm_source=sharebuttons&utm_medium=facebook&utm_campaign=mashshare&fbclid=IwAR3lfOMPejr4FOtKxgkUda0PfQaaSjWchIGO3LvF1uyVUm7AMBpb5hqZGPk) and in lifting him up as one of America’s last great presidents, those things, which have had a tremendous impact on the world, have been ignored – including his racism.
White Americans have historically been able to separate their racism from their faith. In the antebellum South, whites would say that slavery was a problem but that it was not immoral or wrong; the Slavery Bible was written to contort the will of God to fit the racist mindset of Southerners who believed in it. White Christianity has always been different from the Christianity practiced by oppressed people. The god of white people has been ok with racism and all of its tentacles, but their god did not gel with the God of all people described in the Christian Bible.
Robert P. Jones in his book The End of White Christian America says that “White Christian America…has died.” But has it? This sect of Christians is making a comeback, using race as their foundation, to maintain what has been the status quo. If the “swamp” was drained, it was refilled with these “good, Christian” people who believe in the sanctity of white supremacy. The noticeable silence on the part of the media about this president’s racism supports that reality. Nobody expected the funeral of the late president to be the place where Bush’s racism was mentioned, but the media should have. The role of racism in this country and its use by the “best of the best” as indicated by the Bush campaign, should have been noted more prominently, not to beat him over the head but to remind America that we still have a problem.
My guess is that the majority of white people, white Christians especially, do not know about the Willie Horton ad and that if they did, it would not bother them. They would shrug and say that Willie Horton was a bad guy and that using him to win an election was fair game.
This attitude, even though the very architect of the ad struggled with the wrongness of that ad until he died.
Revising history when it comes to race seems to be the only way white Americans can survive. Dr. Joy DeGruy, the author of Post– Traumatic Slave Syndrome, identifies the cognitive dissonance that white people have learned to use so well as a major reason why racism still fills this country with its stench.
The voter suppression that is running rampant throughout the country has a racist core; many of the policies being created have a racist core. We are a racist nation, and we will not admit it.
President George H.W. Bush was a good person to and for his family and friends. He did some things that perhaps helped the African American community during his presidency. He was certainly civil, unlike the current president; he was not an outright liar, again, as is the current president.
But he was racist and knew how to use racism to get what he wanted. I cannot forget that, and I suspect, many others cannot, either.
A candid observation