Etched in a limestone statue that sits outside our Department of Justice, there is this: “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty”. That statement has been attributed to various speakers and authors, dating all the way back to 1790. Variants of it have been generated through the decades. However, the first person to make that statement is far less important than the message it sends to us which has never been more relevant than it is today.
That our liberty and democracy are inextricably bound together isn’t even arguable. Their health and well-being are mutually interdependent; to protect one is to protect the other; to endanger one is to compromise the other.
Just as was true back in the earliest days of the founding of our republic, citizens depended on various sources of news in the exercise of their own due diligence or should we say vigilance. Fast-forward to today and our 24/7 news cycle. It is constantly bringing us what could fairly be characterized as a blizzard of media reports that have embedded within them, facts, informed and uninformed opinions and unfortunately, outright lies. Sorting through all of this to separate the wheat from the chaff and the credible from the incredulous is a daunting task. That is especially true if you are managing a full-time job as well as taking care of yourself and those closest to you. Where is the time? But, the truth is, we have to find it because that is the cost of our liberty. That is the cost of our practice of vigilance.
But, what if the news (broadly speaking) brings us the same message over and over again? A classic case in point is the president’s serial lying which many members of the media (1) believe they are obligated to report. There is the danger that this repetition is generating ennui, a sort of “Oh that again” blah reaction. If you find yourself drifting in that direction, put on the brakes and recover your vigilance. All lies matter, big or small, and big ones matter a lot, whether they pertain to national policy or an extra-marital affair with or without “hush money” payments.
The maintenance of vigilance is critical when it comes to keeping track of what is happening to the twin pillars of our democracy; i.e. our civility and respect for the rule of law. Both have been under attack almost from the day that Donald J. Trump stepped into the White House. His name-calling, abrasive language, and divisive rhetoric have not just degraded civil discourse, but served as a carte blanche for folks on both the left and the right to emulate him (2). Even worse, Trump’s spurious and often fact-free based assault on the Justice Department, the FBI and the Mueller investigation has driven disrespect for the rule of law to historic lows.
What is stunning is how many people either do not see what is happening or choose to downplay it. They have directed a singular focus onto the economy, e.g. the Dow-Jones Industrial Average, the level of unemployment and other key economic indicators. In simple terms, their argument is that Trump’s policies are working so nothing else really matters. Anyone who holds exclusively to that mindset has no real understanding of what has bound us together for almost 250 years and what is in danger now, their claims of patriotism and being “real Americans” to the contrary.
It hardly need be said that the Trump presidency will end no later than 2024. The pressing question is “Will Trumpism leave office with him?” It had better or his time in office may well be regarded by historians as the period when our democracy lost its’ moorings and began an inextricable drift into disintegration.
- There are conservative news outlets that either gloss over Trump’s repeated lying or find some excuse for it; e.g. “it happened before he was elected”.
- If you dare to get a sample of the political vitriol that is present today, Google “AOL Politics” and find your way to the “Comments” section that follows each news story that has been posted at that site.