Tough Choices

Alan Zendell, September 9, 2022

The next couple of months are not a time when Americans who care about our future can afford to take our eyes off the ball. We’re under a lot of stress, from inflated prices, women’s (and their partners’) concerns about reproductive health, people feeling ostracized because of the gender of their life partners, to teachers facing unprecendented censorship of what they can teach. That’s enough to exhaust most people by the end of the day, and it’s exactly what the forces of darkness count on.

As Trumpism was growing and showing itself for what it really is, (greed, bigotry, homophobia, xenophobia, misogyny,) The Washington Post adopted the creed: “Democracy Dies in Darkness.” It’s a clear statement with two equally important meanings. The Post declared that it would fight to protect the rights guaranteed in the First Amendment with its dying breath, if need be, and warned America to demand light and transparency whenever its leaders speak.

I’m particularly struck by the way the death of Queen Elizabeth II has swept everything else out of our public view. I’ve never understood Americans’ obsession with the British monarchy from which we spent six years of bloody war freeing ourselves, though I appreciate the deep feeling many in the UK and the Commonwealth have for it. Maybe mourning for a queen who devoted her entire life to her people is a good thing for us; no one would ever confuse the moral and ethical leadership or the self-sacrifice of Elizabeth with the self-serving narcissism and megalomania displayed by Trump.

After a week of mourning, Brits will go back to dealing with harsh realities: terrible inflation, a new Prime Minister striving to win the confidence of her people after a bungled Brexit, and with winter coming, the crushing cost of energy and determining how much sacrifice it will take to help Ukraine push back Russian aggression. We face similar choices.

Our midterm elections, eight weeks from now, may be the critical nexus in the future of our democracy, as states controlled by Trumpers, will use gerrymandering and new voter restriction laws, and pull out all the stops to assure that opposition voters are silenced and their own partisans are given the power to decide all electoral disputes. This is our generation’s unspoken Declaration of Independence from tyranny. Will we show the same commitment the Continental Army did two-hundred-fifty years ago?

As the fight for the midterms builds up steam, we will be dealing with the national crisis over what to do about a former president who likely committed serious felonies, any one of which would see the rest of us imprisoned for life. I’ve stated my position: investigators and prosecutors must follow the evidence wherever it leads and not be intimidated by threats of violence. If the evidence warrants indictment and prosecution, those must proceed until a fair verdict is reached that demonstrates no one is above our law.

At that point I’m in the camp that favors a presidential pardon, not out of mercy or compassion for a man who clearly doesn’t deserve it, but for the sake of peace and tranquility in the country. There are many knowledgeable people who disagree with me on that last point, who argue that equal punishment under the law for crimes committed by a former president is a necessary deterrent against future presidents behaving the same way. We’ve heard the same argument rage for decades over the death penalty and mandatory sentencing guidelines, but I’ve seen no convincing evidence that the deterrence effect is worth ignoring the practical reality that millions of heavily armed people in this country might resort to violence, when a pardon might silence cries of partisanship and revenge.

We also face a debate over federal spending, which like its predecessors, will come down to the last second as it runs into a legal requirement to shut down the government when funding runs out. Neither side in our tragically divided politics wants that, but the issues in the spending bill proposed by Democrats are the same ones that have been in the headlines throughout 2022. How far can the administration go to support women’s rights in the face of the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v Wade? How deep is our commitment to standing firm against Russian aggression after months of price increases, food shortages, and broken supply chains? Do we still need to pump massive amounts of funding into COVID prevention and treatment?

It’s been an agonizing year, but we can’t quit just because we’re tired. Any cleric will tell you the Devil never rests or misses an opportunity to seize on his adversaries’ weaknesses. I don’t believe in the Devil, per se, but the image is a useful metaphor for standing up against entities who would drag us back to the days of tyranny and intolerance.

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