The Cost of Denying What You See

             The political climate in this country has many people angry, confused, and anxious. Even as the impeachment proceedings are going on in the Senate (I cannot call it a “trial” because it is so fraught with issues) there is no comfort that there will be a civilized end to the turmoil that has been the signature of this country for the past three years. Tribalism has become a live, virulent creature that seemingly will not be tamed or quieted.

I have been silent for weeks because I have not known what to say. What I see is the systematic unraveling of our country’s government as we have known it. I see values like honesty, regard for the law and for the Constitution, and political civility giving way to bold lies and sense of arrogance that dares anyone to try to stop what is happening. I see attacks on the press, manipulation of the concept of religious freedom to support one group of religious people at the expense of all others, and a disregard for this country’s allies.

I see the Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, showing and using his considerable political acumen, in all of its ruthlessness.  I see one group of politicians trying to show the country and the world what is happening to America’s democracy, and another group of politicians saying that what we are seeing and hearing is not, in fact, the truth or real.

It is daunting and exhausting to watch.

But what is bothering me most is that people are denying what appears to be the truth; they refuse to listen to or look at voices and/or documents that support accusations that are being made. And I see simultaneously others who do see what is going on and who are gnawing on their fingernails as the process of dismantling this democracy is happening right before our eyes.

Denial of a problem does not make it go away. We, as human beings, are good at denying. Wives and husbands who get all of the warning signals that their spouse is cheating deny what they see. Parents who sense that their child is in trouble, perhaps doing drugs or drinking too much alcohol, or hanging out with the wrong people, deny what they see, sense, and feel. Neighborhoods deny that there the trouble that plagues other places could ever come to their streets until a horrific tragedy happens. People deny that there is police brutality until one of their loved ones becomes a victim. Parents deny that their son or daughter is gay until that child comes out; they have “known” all along, but preferred to live in denial.

Denial doesn’t work. Truth always comes up and out, and usually at the most inopportune times.

We in this country have lived in denial for a long time, pretending like our foundation is not racist and pretending that we believe in democracy. In fact, a broad swath of Americans has never believed that people of color are “equal” or deserving of full American citizenship. In the 19th century, white people in the North denied that they were racist until they were faced with scores of black people migrating North, looking for work and dignity. Being against the institution of slavery was one thing; granting black people full citizenship and saying that they were equal with whites was quite another. We still live in denial about our innate racism, but it is part of the foundation of this country. Some analysts say that what we are seeing is the move to “make America white again.” The push-back against allowing people of color to img_0231enter this country or stay in this country is part of the fear of white people no longer being the majority population in this country by the year 2044. (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/22/us/white-americans-minority-population.html) White men are intent on staying in power by any means necessary, but many of us are in denial that their practices and policies are rooted in the belief in the need to preserve white supremacy.

It is exhausting to watch, and troubling as well, because it seems that the progression of forcing regression to an earlier America where there was less tolerance of all people, in spite of our claim of American exceptionalism is on a fast train speeding down a hill. Nobody wants to admit it or talk about it. Nobody wants to say out loud that the voter suppression tactics that are being put into place are racist in their intent, designed to keep black and brown people out of the polling booths. And yet, what we are seeing is the result of having denied since our inception that white supremacy is America’s cancer. And it is eating us alive in the present day, even as we pretend we do not see what is going on.

Audre Lorde, an African American essayist, who described herself as a “black lesbian, warrior, mother, and poet” wrote the words, “My silences did not protect me. Your silence will not protect you.” The silence that so many people are living in and trying to maintain, the silence that keeps voices of truth from being heard, is not going to save America. Silence is denial, and denial is only a temporary stop-gap to the problems around us. Sooner or later, the truth will push through like an angry geyser, spraying the area around it with drops of truth.

The geyser of denial is bubbling beneath us, even as this president and administration continue their work to stay in power. I’m not quite sure what this country will look like once it bursts through our carefully cultivated ground of denial, but I am fairly certain that the “carnage” will be significant.

A candid observation.

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.