Saturday, February 1, 2020

The Day American Democracy Died

December 7, 1941.  November 22, 1963.  September 11, 2001. January 31, 2020. Dates that will live in infamy: The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor; the assassination of President John F. Kennedy; the attack on the World Trade Towers and the Pentagon; and the Day American Democracy Died.

The American Experiment with democracy began in 1776 with a declaration of independence from the British crown. American colonists eschewed authoritarian rule by a monarchy. Instead, they created a unique form of governance of the people, by the people, and for the people. The American people, unlike any other in the world then or in previous history, would choose their leaders, who would serve at the pleasure of the populace and no longer. The leader would be one of three co-equal branches of this new type of government – the others being the Congress and the courts – and each branch would serve as a check on the others to prevent any from becoming more powerful than the others and thus ensuring the balance of power. The leader, and all government officials, would be subject to, and restrained by, the rule of law, embodied in a written constitution and expanded on through subsequent statutes and court decisions. Voters would select electors who would then convene at an electoral college to cast their votes for president. The new government bore some resemblance to that of Ancient Rome. “Have you given us a republic or a monarchy?” a woman asked Benjamin Franklin as he left the last day of deliberation at the Constitutional Convention in 1787. “A republic, madam,” he replied, “if you can keep it.”

And keep it we did, for nearly two and a half centuries. Until today. It was a good run. Spectacular, actually, enduring corruption, financial calamities, and a civil war that split the nation for four years. “Democracy never lasts long,” John Adams wrote. “It soon wastes, exhausts and murders itself. There was never a democracy that did not commit suicide.”

The American Experiment has been copied by many nations. It hasn’t always worked. Demagogues have risen to power with simplistic slogans and lies, stoking fear, jealousy, xenophobia, and hate-mongering toward discrete minorities they select as scapegoats. They promise a cure for all of society's perceived ills allegedly caused by these scapegoats -- a cure that will never be seen, of course. But by the time the demagogue’s followers realize this, it is already too late: their precious democracy has been usurped by authoritarian rule.

“It could never happen here,” was the common refrain whenever an attempted democracy shrieked its death wail like a prescient banshee to be replaced by authoritarian rule. “Es könnte hier nie passieren" proud Germans said in 1933 as Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany. Germany. Uganda. Venezuela. Iraq. North Korea. Russia. The flame of democracy flickered, like a candle in the wind before being extinguished.

The death of democracy, like any apocalypse, is ushered in by its horsemen. The first horseman is the demagogue. But he does not travel alone, for by himself his vitriol and Machiavellian plotting would amount to naught. He rides with his followers – who part with their sacred vote like a maiden giving her chastity to a slick-talking carpetbagger – and his enablers: those in positions of political and social power who through their established reputations of trust cloak him with the imprimatur of legitimacy. By himself, the demagogue is merely a crazed uncle ranting in the attic. But surrounded by his followers and enablers, he becomes a destructive force that attacks and dismembers democratic institutions  – the free press, the courts, the rule of law – until democracy itself is asphyxiated. Often the followers and enablers have themselves been duped like the citizens of River City when the Music Man comes to town and they find they have trouble… with a capital T, as in Trump.

The followers believe they are Making America Great Again. Representing more than a third of the country, they feel threatened by rapid demographic and cultural changes and seek a return to a time when America was “Great,” or at least a predominantly White, Christian, heterosexual patriarchy: the Good Old Days that never truly existed, viewed through rose-colored glasses that filtered out those disconcerting and disturbing elements of America and its history at odds with the myth they worship. It was an America where the Chinese immigrants that built the railroads; the African slaves that constructed the nation’s infrastructure; and the Jews that established American culture were rendered invisible. Special glasses indeed.

But it is the enablers who, more than any other, doomed American democracy. Washington warned against a two-party system, yet his warning went unheeded. In 2016, a cancer metastasized, spreading throughout the Republican party, corrupting those who did not flee the party. What remained was a desiccated shell of the Grand Old Party, a modern Typhoid Mary spreading its plague of authoritarianism wrapped in the cult worship of one individual. These Republicans In Name Only – for they share none of the beliefs or integrity of their predecessors – hypocritically betrayed their fiduciary duty to act within Congress as a check and balance on the presidency. Republican Sen. Maj. Leader Mitch McConnell announced: "Everything I do during this, I’m coordinating with White House Counsel. There will be no difference between the President’s position and our position as to how to handle this [impeachment].” He added he would be in "total coordination with the White House counsel's office and the people who are representing the president in the well of the Senate." In so doing, McConnell transformed the Republican-controlled Senate from a check and balance on the presidency into a rubber stamp for the White House.

While President Donald Trump continued his assault on American democracy by inundating the public with lies, misinformation, and “fake news;” undermining the free press through vitriolic attacks, suspension of press conferences, revocation of press credentials, and questioning its integrity and legitimacy; under-staffing key government departments and agencies; undermining the integrity and legitimacy of the military and the nation’s intelligence agencies; and sowing racial and religious hatred among the populace, McConnell steered his Republican-controlled Senate through a public cover-up of epic proportions. As revelations of the treachery of Devin Nunes, Rudy Giuliani, and other prominent Republicans were exposed on a near daily basis, McConnell orchestrated his sham impeachment trial. It was a trial in which he did not allow evidence to be subpoenaed. It was a trial in which he did not allow witnesses to be called. It was a trial in which the president’s attorneys – whom McConnell had proudly announced he would be coordinating with despite his oath of impartiality as a juror – stood only a few feet from the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and lied… repeatedly.

The so-called “impeachment trial” was a kangaroo court worthy of a banana republic or the former Soviet Union. It was not a trial in any sense of the word, nor was it the sort of proceeding one would find in a democracy. A trial, as any lawyer will tell you, is a search for the truth. Both sides present their case to the jurors by putting forth evidence and witnesses. The facts are presented, not hidden. The goal is to arm the jury with all available information so it may determine the truth. Without facts, without evidence; without witnesses, there is nothing for a jury to deliberate. Or as Lewis Carroll wrote in Alice’s Adventures Through the Looking Glass: “Sentence first, verdict later.” We don’t need no stinking witnesses… or evidence… or facts. The fix is in. The outcome was decided before the trial began: just as Mitch McConnell had told us.

The most important trial in American history – the trial of the president – is a sham in a kangaroo court with a pre-ordained outcome. That could never happen in a democracy. It happened in America on January 31, 2020: the Day American Democracy Died.

No comments:

Post a Comment