The Unraveling of Democracy

Alan Zendell, May 5, 2022

The heart of any democratic society is its judicial system and free elections. The extreme right wing of the Republican party has made it clear that it has no respect for either as democratic institutions. In their view, courts and elections are things to be manipulated for their own benefit. It’s perfectly clear that the vast majority of Americans want free, fair elections. It’s equally clear that they demand justice and integrity from our courts. Yet, we find ourselves in the very nasty situation that a venal minority who care only about their own power and wealth may soon be in full control of our future unless we awaken as a nation and fight back.

The battle between those who believe in our constitution and those who see it as a malleable thing that can be twisted and distorted into something unrecognizable for personal gain and ideologies began as the founders were drafting it. Throughout our history, there has always been a pattern of swinging toward one extreme or another as different voices arose and the needs of our country evolved. But there was always enough balance that before one group of extremists on either side could achieve ascendancy, the tide turned back the other way as dependably as the swing of a pendulum.

Americans of my generation who were born in the 1940s and 50s were raised to believe in the American dream of equal opportunity and fairness. We grew up in the shadow of Fascism and the Communist ideology of Joseph Stalin and the cultural revolution of Communist China. We grew up believing we were the good guys fighting the forces of oppression that ruled everywhere else. We more moral, we were better educated, and we were stronger – in the 1950s, the most prominent symbol of our culture was the fictional Superman who fought for “truth, justice, and the American way.”

In school, we were taught about how Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves, but somehow our textbooks and teachers failed to underline the moral horror and degradation of our society that slavery represented. We were taught about the brave pioneers who settled our country and moved west, and how their lives were constantly threatened by savage Indian tribes, but our textbooks somehow forgot about our national sin of genocide as we systematically destroyed entire nations of native Americans and their beautiful cultural values. Oh, the self-righteous bullshit we grew up believing!

Most of us know better now. We are not the good guys of the world, and our relatively affluent way of life and freedoms that we took for granted are neither sacrosanct nor indestructible. We got lazy and fat as we turned from the need to defend our freedom to our fancy cars and ever more expensive toys. We thought we were special when we passed civil rights and social security laws. What a wonderful country we lived in, at least until Vietnam exposed a very dark side as dangerously narrow ideologies and greed guided our national policies.

How did we get here? It’s really pretty simple. America has become a nation characterized by intellectual laziness. Remember when we used to characterize other countries’ elections as rigged and their judicial systems as kangaroo courts? Of course, that could never happen here. When Barack Obama was elected, most Americans thought we had finally matured as a nation, putting our petty bigotries and prejudices behind us, but that too was merely illusion, as the forces of hate and ignorance went underground waiting for a leader who was as venal and immoral as they were to come along and release them.

And then Donald Trump entered the scene. Never in American history have we had someone come to power based almost entirely on being willing to pander to anyone, anywhere as long as they voted for him. A man without a shred of personal integrity, with no meaningful ideology of his own other than lust for power and greed managed to unite the most unholy coalition of racists, religious fanatics, and people down on their luck who were easily convinced by the lie that all their problems stemmed from a progressive agenda based on freedom and equal opportunity.

Those of us, especially those who grew up in or near New York, who understood what Trump was long before he turned to politics, knew the day he was elected where this was leading. We tried to warn everyone else, but our country had already slid too far into ennui and indifference – nothing mattered as long as we had our social media and fancy playthings.

We’re paying the price for that indifference now. Like any authoritarian, Trump has consistently attacked the integrity of our elections and our judiciary. Half our states are passing laws to restrict the ability of non-whites’ and the poor’s right to vote, and now we see proof of what we feared most. All three of Trump’s Supreme Court Justices lied to the Senators who confirmed them under oath, and those, like Susan Collins, who let her desperate need to be re-elected in a purple state silence whatever judgment she still possessed, let it happen.

That’s perjury, folks. Three supreme court justices very likely committed felonies in order to be confirmed by a corrupt Senate. It’s unlikely that the political will to impeach them exists in the Congress, but we have to take a stand somewhere, and that looks like a great place to start. The fight for our democracy is every bit as vital as the fight being waged by Ukrainians who are all putting their lives on the line to defend what we Americans have taken for granted far too long.

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