Briefly stated, get involved. The keyword for a strong, active democracy is involvement. When the citizenry becomes lazy and complacent, when it becomes politically silent, when it takes its freedoms and liberties for granted, assuming they are written in stone, that citizenry becomes vulnerable to any strongman/autocrat who comes along spewing lies about how the democracy is working. That strongman first creates fear through false facts and fake news and then purports to fix the false facts that aren’t really facts. It was the stock and trade of snake oil salesmen who roamed the American countryside in previous centuries, bilking people of their hard earned cash while lining their own pockets with the spoils of a gullible public.
So a crucial element of involvement, is to tear open the envelope of fear and false facts, and determine, truly, which are true. This is no easy task. There are numerable purveyors of news out there, all vying for attention with sometime questionable headlines and content. There is the Internet, unfettered and unregulated, with a scant few checking on its so-called facts and assertions and accusations. It’s like entering a casino and trying to figure out which slot machine will deliver the next jackpot. The machines are often rigged to deliver an occasional winner, just to keep the player in his or her seat plugging in quarters and dollars as the casino owners sit smugly in their high lairs smiling the smiles of contented greed and satisfaction at their cleverness.
Of course slot machine analysis is a futile exercise. You will ultimately lose because only luck will determine when that next jackpot will come up. Objective research is futile. But with the lies of politicians, which are paraded unabashedly as truths, you may be able to determine which are valid and which are bloviated bull. Performing that analysis is the challenge of every citizen in a democracy.
After all, in dictatorships that is not really possible. The leader sets the bar as to what is the truth. Any opposition is squelched by force, if necessary, but mostly by fear itself. For it is fear itself that silences the opposition who has become terrified with the thought of repercussion, including torture and death. The emphasis there is on the word “thought,” for thought alone is sufficient to keep the hordes in check. Just like cattle who after enough shocks will not stray when the electric fence is removed, citizens who have experienced or witnessed enough terror from their own government will eventually go silent and inactive, which is just what the dictator and his henchmen had planned for. Courageous agitators will go underground, often turned in by the very neighbors they trusted before. In a dictatorship, the first goal of the citizen is not to restore democracy but to save one’s own skin.
So when you start to see signs of suspension of freedom of speech and of the press, that is the time to be extremely concerned for the health of the democracy. It will be a fairly gradual process, with the powers in place referring to aspects of the press that criticize them as “the opposition party” or “the enemies of the people.” They are fine with the parts of the press that are in lockstep with the lies and distortions, and who even collude with further spreading the muck around. Fox News is an example of this today, and is no more than a mouthpiece for ultraconservatives in government. Other media like The New York Times, the Washington Post, the BBC, and PBS are under attack by the Trump Administration because they still have the courage to oppose the perpetrated lies.
So before we devolve into something like the superstate Oceania of the book, 1984, you need to actively join the loyal opposition. Contrary to what Trump believes, a democracy does need a loyal opposition.
The seeds of tyranny started well before Trump, when Tea Party Republicans, back by Fox News and others like Rush Limbaugh, hammered away at President Obama trying to delegitimize his presidency and block him every inch of the way. Trump was relentless in his fake birther assertions that Obama was not a citizen (which he later repudiated). In my estimation, many of them were traitors, opposing every legislative initiative that Obama put forward, bringing us to the brink of a world-wide depression. Mitch McConnell even said that his main goal, above all else, was to prevent the reelection of Barack Obama’s to a second term. Obama won, but that didn’t stop the party of “No” from continuing their “shock and awe” campaign against the President, and ultimately the country itself.
Out of this maelstrom, with a populace pummeled by a do-nothing Congress and a handcuffed President, emerged Donald Trump in 2015. Here was a rich CEO, enamored to the Dilbert ways of the corporate world and schooled in the promotional world of entertainment media. He alone could right the ship of an America gone bad, he said repeatedly. He scared people with his rhetoric of fear and false alarm bells. He sullied the airwaves with tapes of his misogynistic rants. Violent crime was out of hand, he said. The economy was in shambles. Obamacare was “horrible.” People were flooding across our border with Mexico—murderers, rapists, drug addicts—“bad hombres” all, he blustered. Fact is that none of that was true. None of it. And the fact checkers confirmed that. But hardly anyone reads the day-after corrections section in the papers. Promoter Trump knew that if he made these statements with enough force, most of the baloney would stick in people’s heads. He was tapping into a cauldron of fear, hatred, racism, and frustration that really grew out of a do-nothing Congress and a President who was stymied by that Tea Party Congress. McConnell finally won, but he didn’t count on Trump beating out 16 establishment-backed candidates for the Republican nomination.
With Trump, and a conservative Republican Congress in hand, our democracy is under siege. He seems intent on running the country as he would his business—from the top down with essentially one man in charge. He will fire anyone who disagrees with his agenda. He will appoint only people who have backed him during the presidential campaign. But you can’t really run a democratic country like a business. For a business is, for all intents and purposes, a dictatorship. Plenty of tears from the lower tiers. But relatively no tangles from the upper tier. The boss is in charge. It’s his way or the highway. A democratic government, on the other hand, requires give and take. It requires compromise. It requires cooperation and collegiality. Ultimately, it requires allegiance to its Constitution for its guiding principles, and an acknowledgement that it is subservient to the will of its people. It also requires its people to be proactively involved in how the country is run, as I mentioned at the beginning.
So as we stand on the razor’s edge of autocracy and democracy, how do “We, the People” proceed? First, at the core, we are and have been a skeptical people. We cannot assume Trump has the interest of the country, as a whole, in mind. His whole life has been dedicated to the premise that “the ends justify the means.” As President of the world’s greatest democracy, that can no longer be the case. We, the People:
- must oppose the rampant and flagrant use of Executive Orders to advance Trump’s agenda. The main way of advancing an agenda in a democracy is through legislation, where bills can be studied and debated and voted upon, and passed onto the next level of Congress. Call your representative in Congress, daily if necessary, and insist on a more democratic way to run the country. I don’t care if Republicans now control Congress. That will change. But what shouldn’t change is the Constitutional fact that Congress is as equal to the president in the enactment of laws that govern the country.
- must oppose Trump’s tactic of using Twitter every time he feels threatened by some impending investigation for one of his wrongdoings. The current critical example is to deflect attention away from the investigation which is underway of Russia’s influence on the last presidential election, and Trump’s possible collusion in that interference. This is an extremely serious charge affecting the violability of our democracy, and, to be done right, must be led by a special prosecutor who has complete independence from partisan influence. Flood your representatives with phone calls on this crucial issue, emphasizing the need for that special prosecutor. This investigation can lead to the subpoena of Trump’s income tax records and help reveal and unravel the financial connections he has to Russia and its surrogates. I believe this is Trump’s Watergate and could lead to either his impeachment or his resignation.
- must oppose those appointees of Trump that lean heavily towards authoritarian rule. Stephen Bannon comes to mind as a former leader of Breitbart News, a news source that continues to support white nationalist, racist, xenophobic, misogynistic, and anti-Semitic views. What’s more, Trump, ignoring all precedent, appointed this fellow to a permanent seat on the National Security Council. This is the group that deliberates on waging war, and decides on what issues constitute action based on national security. Bannon represents a danger to our country and the world as a whole. It would be tough to have Bannon removed, but your representative should know how you feel about his current position. In a democracy, anyone whose stated purpose is to “deconstruct the administrative state” should be suspect when considering the vital position he is in.
So you begin to see how important it is, in maintaining a healthy representative democracy, to be in close touch with your representatives in Congress, as well as your state legislature. At the moment, my state senator, Mike McGuire, is sponsoring a bill before the California Legislature to require a presidential candidate to submit five years of tax returns before being placed on the 2020 statewide ballot for President. He is hoping other states follow suit. This would effectively force someone like Trump, who has refused to make any of his returns public, do just that if he wants to have any chance of winning those states. McGuire’s bill, SB 149, the California Presidential Tax Transparency and Accountability Act, is genius from my perspective, and should be promoted and passed by every state in the Union.
Of course, there are other tactics to help save our democracy. Signing petitions; sending money to organizations with a history of successful legal actions to protect the environment, consumer interests, and ethics in government and business; running for office yourself at local, state, or national levels; making a sign and participating in non-violent street demonstrations; writing letters to the editors of local and national publications; and staying informed by choosing your media sources wisely. But the best tactic for saving a representative democracy, I think, is staying in close touch with your representative. Calling is best, since they keep close track of the number of calls that come in daily and for what issues, each call representative of hundreds of others who thought the same but didn’t take the time to call. How to find their number? In this digital age, it’s simple. Just go to their website and easily find their numbers for local, state, and national offices.
“If there is a lesson that stretches across history, “wrote Larry Diamond, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, “then it is that nothing should be taken for granted. The laziest and most fatal form of intellectual arrogance is to assume that what has been will continue to be. Legitimacy is nothing more than a set of individual beliefs and values. If we do not work to renew those beliefs and values with each generation, then even long-established democracies could be at risk.”
And on the dangers of Donald Trump, this from Yascha Mounk, a lecturer on government at Harvard: “He has legitimately been elected president of the United States. But the government is now in danger of becoming illegitimate because Trump doesn’t seem to recognize the importance of democratic norms or the limits on his power. And he seems to be governing not in the interest of all Americans but only in the interests of those people he considers real Americans.”
With our democracy in danger, it’s time for action. Go to indivisableguide.com and download their excellent 27 page free guide on resisting the Trump agenda. Go to michaelmoore.com to download ten actions you need to take every day. The United States of America, the world’s greatest and longest-lasting democracy, desperately needs your help.