We are approaching the 250th year of our existence as a sovereign nation. How have we managed this without losing what patriots died for and our Founding Fathers put in place; i.e. a republic based on democratic principles? What has kept us going? The answer resides in what here will be discussed here as the “two rails of our democracy”.
The rule of law
Our history has been marked by rebellions (1), insurrections and large-scale demonstrations, most of the latter have been of the peaceful type. But, we have always come back to our reverence for the rule of law; our decision to adhere to and embrace the Constitution, to allow tests of it to be settled by the courts, to accept those outcomes, and to hold to our belief in E pluribus unum (Out of many, one).
The critical importance of all of this has led to the understanding that the acceptance of all this in its many manifestations manifestations, is the hard rail of our democracy.
The soft rail
Hand-in-hand with the hard rail, there is this: civility in word and action, especially in our public behavior and political discourse. Even when the law doesn’t turn in our favor, when court decisions don’t go our way, we have, in the main, comported ourselves like grownups who understand that in a democracy, we will win some, lose some, but always have our fair chance to be heard and respected.
The two rails under Trump
It should go without saying that anything or anyone that weakens either or both of the two rails is courting trouble for our democracy. Yet, that is exactly what the 45th president has done.
Even as he campaigned, he roiled crowds with talk of dealing with opponents by means of a “punch in the face” or having then removed “on a stretcher”. He referred to people with demeaning nicknames like “lying Ted…(and) little Marco”. He condemned the media as “fake news” but never offered a thoughtful, fact-based rebuttal to what he considered their invalid reporting. These forms of uncivil behavior have now spilled over into his presidency with Tweetstorms and references to people in the news with sobriquets like ” little rocketman, sloppy Steve” and “Dicky”. This level of communication obviously plays well with a political base that enjoys having its collective spleen stroked. But, it is destructive as witnessed by the fact that opinion writers, bloggers (2) and members of the general public have begun to devolve towards that same style and content.
Coupled with the foregoing, we have Trump’s disdain for any court and/or judge that acts again him in the process of upholding the law and the Constitution. His relentless attacks on the news media show little respect for the role of a free press in a democratic society and First Amendment protections. He disparages the Justice Department, the nation’s chief law enforcement agency. Congress, even though controlled by his own party, gets its fair share of verbal abuse when it fails to deliver legislatively on campaign promises that he made. Political opponents are not challenged to policy debates, but subjected to vilification. For Trump, there is no “loyal opposition” to be respected for their principles even as one holds to a different set of them. They are the enemy and are described as such in so many words.
We and our democracy are on a dangerous path. Whether 45 has put us there or not isn’t a debate worth having. What is clear, is that he is pushing us along it and those who have joined him, even as his opponents, have put our democracy in peril by doing so. Trump shows no sign of exerting the kind of leadership needed to create a course correction, even as one is clearly needed. By and large, conservatives in and out of government, have shown themselves to either be supportive of 45’s behavior or have achieved the same end with their silence. Complicity can take many forms.
Our first chance at a reversal will come with this year’s election. That should be taken as a call to elect to Congress, individuals whether an R or D, who will actively set a new tone and especially evince an open support for the very democratic institutions that 45 has so disparaged.
1. The Whiskey and Shay’s rebellions are just two examples from our early history.
2. A personal admission: When I started this blog with the statement “My take”, I tried to set a standard of providing objective, dispassionate political commentary. Over time, I have not held firmly to that commitment. Even as I remained fact-based, sarcasm and emotionally charged language found their way into my output. There are conservatives who visit this site and doubtless found the immediate foregoing, offensive. To you, I apologize and will strive to do better.