History tells us that individuals and nations often do not make good decisions and live to regret mistakes in judgment. The election in Britain yesterday may be one such example as that nation appears hell bent now to leave the European Union thereby setting the stage from new efforts in Scotland to break away and perhaps even Northern Ireland to follow suit. England may revel in it xenophobia and go it along attitude now, but down the it may be a different tale. History also tells us that democracies die often not just because of the rise of a strong man, but also because too many citizens and allow it to happen. The end of democracies from as far back as the death of the Roman Republic also lays blame for the decline of democratic rule on politicians willing to sell their souls in order to cling to personal power - at least in the short term - with little or care for the nation's or their constituents long term future. We are now witnessing such conduct by most elected Republicans in America. Like the English, many Americans may come to long regret their shortsightedness of today in the light of a far worse tomorrow. A column in the New York Times makes this case and urges one to not give up the resistance. Here are highlights:
The despair felt by climate scientists and environmentalists watching helplessly as something precious and irreplaceable is destroyed is sometimes described as “climate grief.”Lately, I think I’m experiencing democracy grief. For anyone who was, like me, born after the civil rights movement finally made democracy in America real, liberal democracy has always been part of the climate, as easy to take for granted as clean air or the changing of the seasons. When I contemplate the sort of illiberal oligarchy that would await my children should Donald Trump win another term, the scale of the loss feels so vast that I can barely process it.
After Trump’s election, a number of historians and political scientists rushed out with books explaining, as one title put it, “How Democracies Die.” In the years since, it’s breathtaking how much is dead already. Though the president will almost certainly be impeached for extorting Ukraine to aid his re-election, he is equally certain to be acquitted in the Senate, a tacit confirmation that he is, indeed, above the law. His attorney general is a shameless partisan enforcer. Professional civil servants are purged, replaced by apparatchiks. The courts are filling up with young, hard-right ideologues. One recently confirmed judge, 40-year-old Steven Menashi, has written approvingly of ethnonationalism.
In “How Democracies Die,” Professors Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt of Harvard describe how, in failing democracies, “the referees of the democratic game were brought over to the government’s side, providing the incumbent with both a shield against constitutional challenges and a powerful — and ‘legal’ — weapon with which to assault its opponents.” This is happening before our eyes.
In The Washington Post, Michael Gerson, a former speechwriter for George W. Bush and a Never Trump conservative, described his spiritual struggle against feelings of political desperation: “Sustaining this type of distressed uncertainty for long periods, I can attest, is like putting arsenic in your saltshaker.”
I reached out to a number of therapists, who said they’re seeing this politically induced misery in their patients. . . . . Karen Starr, a psychologist who practices in Manhattan and on Long Island, some of her patients were “in a state of alarm,” but that’s changed into “more of a chronic feeling that’s bordering on despair.” Among those most affected, she said, are the Holocaust survivors she sees. “It’s about this general feeling that the institutions that we rely on to protect us from a dangerous individual might fail,” she said.
Trump, she said, has made bigotry more open and acceptable, something her patients feel in their daily lives. “When you’re dealing with people of color’s mental health, systemic racism is a big part of that,” she said.
Obviously, this is hardly the first time that America has failed to live up to its ideals. But the ideals themselves used to be a nearly universal lodestar. The civil rights movement, and freedom movements that came after it, succeeded because the country could be shamed by the distance between its democratic promises and its reality. That is no longer true.
Democrats and anti-Trump Republicans are often incredulous seeing the party of Ronald Reagan allied with Vladimir Putin’s Russia, but the truth is, there’s no reason they should be in conflict. The enmity between America and Russia was ideological. First it was liberal democracy versus communism. Then it was liberal democracy versus authoritarian kleptocracy.
But Trump’s political movement is pro-authoritarian and pro-oligarch. It has no interest in preserving pluralism, free and fair elections or any version of the rule of law that applies to the powerful as well as the powerless. It’s contemptuous of the notion of America as a lofty idea rather than a blood-and-soil nation.
The nemeses of the Trumpist movement are liberals — in both the classical and American sense of the world — not America’s traditional geopolitical foes. This is something new in our lifetime.
Thus we have a total breakdown in epistemological solidarity. In the impeachment committee hearings, Republicans insist with a straight face that Trump was deeply concerned about corruption in Ukraine. Republican Senators like Ted Cruz of Texas, who is smart enough to know better, repeat Russian propaganda accusing Ukraine of interfering in the 2016 election. The Department of Justice’s Inspector General report refutes years of Republican deep state conspiracy theories about an F.B.I. plot to subvert Trump’s campaign, and it makes no difference whatsoever to the promoters of those theories, who pronounce themselves totally vindicated.
I for one will not quite. I fear too much for the future of my children and grandchildren if Trumpism and Republican treason is left unopposed. Thankfully, at least for the next two years, Virginia is poised to do its part to oppose Trump/Republican misrule.But despair is worth discussing, because it’s something that organizers and Democratic candidates should be addressing head on. Left to fester, it can lead to apathy and withdrawal. Channeled properly, it can fuel an uprising. I was relieved to hear that despite her sometimes overwhelming sense of civic sadness, Landsman’s activism hasn’t let up. She’s been spending a bit less than 20 hours a week on political organizing, and expects to go back to 40 or more after the holidays. “The only other option is to quit, and accept it, and I’m not ready to go there yet,” she said. Democracy grief isn’t like regular grief. Acceptance isn’t how you move on from it. Acceptance is itself a kind of death.