Monday, November 30, 2020
Sunday, November 22, 2020
Earlier this month, on Veterans Day, while speaking at the opening of the new military museum at Ft. Belvoir, Virginia, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Armed Forces, General Mark Milley, affirmed the following: "We are unique among armies, we are unique among militaries. We do not take an oath to a king or queen, or tyrant or dictator, we do not take an oath to an individual. No, we do not take an oath to a country, a tribe or a religion. We take an oath to the Constitution, and every soldier that is represented in this museum—every sailor, airman, marine, coastguard—each of us protects and defends that document, regardless of personal price."
|General Mark Milley|
General Milley, the country’s top general officer, was referring to the same oath that I and many other veterans of my era—and those before and since—have sworn to. It begins like this: “I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same...”
I still stand by that oath, and so too, apparently, do the Armed Forces...at least for now. But a lot of surprising things have been happening over the course of the past four years, and those who have chosen to understate or ignore them could be in for some very unpleasant surprises in the future, as might we all.
The fact that General Milley felt called upon to reaffirm this oath —especially on Veterans Day, a sacred day for military personnel and veterans alike—is telling within the current unprecedented context. Especially after Milley’s commander in chief saw fit a few days before to carry out a shake-up at the top of the chain of command, starting with the firing of the defense secretary and continuing with the sacking of some high-ranking Pentagon officials. The president made little secret of why he was doing this. He was seeking to entrench “Trump loyalists” in the military two months out from what, considering the November 3 election results, should be his final day in office. He also made it clear that he was rejecting those results and planned to stay put, which rendered the Pentagon shake-up pointed and ominous.
It’s not hard to surmise, then, that General Milley knew precisely whom he was referring to when he said that soldiers “do not take an oath to an individual.” Because ever since Donald Trump took office in January of 2017, he has been demanding loyalty, not to the Constitution or even to the United States, but to him personally, from everyone on the roster of State, and he has deemed anyone who refused to comply a “member of the deep state”—yet another fantasy of his own fevered imagination.
The concern is, however, that such is the power of the image of the presidency—a personal power comparable only to that of the Pope within the Roman Catholic Church in terms of mass belief in the superiority of the personage holding the office—that these paranoid fantasies that flourish in Donald Trump’s mind have a contagious effect on his following. Indeed, nearly every time Trump supporters chide Trump critics for pointing to this particular White House resident’s severely flawed personality, they do so by harping on “lack of respect for the institution of the presidency”, rather than acknowledging that this president’s estranged relationship with truth and reality is like none other in the history of the office he holds.
Unfortunately, the Republican Party leadership’s prioritizing of winning over American democratic ideals is such that the majority-Trumpian GOP is perfectly willing to not only indulge but also to fan the flames of this fever in hopes of being able to cling to power at the expense of the people’s faith in the most noteworthy experiment in democracy in the history of the world. And this is only serving to institutionalize the climate of distrust that Trump and Company are seeking to breed, thus pitting the somewhat less than half of the population that is convinced Trumpian propaganda is true against the more than half the population that realizes that it is a pernicious lie.
Over the course of the past couple of weeks, I have engaged repeatedly with Trump-supporters on the social media. Some are too dismissive to develop any rapport with whatsoever. Suffice it to say that on presenting my views on democratic ideals I have no few times been referred to in these post-election days as “a communist”, “an activist”, “an ass”, “a simpleton”, and “an imbecile”—more specifically, “a full-of-shit imbecile”. But those who have maintained sufficient logic and manners to present salient arguments have, to a man and woman, clung to the sole and valid idea of what the president and his campaign apparatus can legally do to challenge the election results.
None of these people, unfortunately, seems to be listening when I repeatedly agree that any candidate has certain legal recourse available when he or she has reason to suspect fraud. They have again and again accused me of wanting to forego certification of the vote and the legal rights of the president and the GOP and simply allow the media to call the election. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth or more ludicrous to anyone at all familiar with my ardently democratic principles for which I have, in another time and place, literally put my life on the line. I fully agree that no vote is final until certified and that, if there is a shadow of a doubt about corruption, it should be investigated. As in any other lawsuit, however, not on the basis of party passion, disappointment over outcome, political ambitions, candidate preference or unmitigated hearsay, but only on the basis of hard evidence and indisputable facts.
The other argument of mine that Trump supporters consistently ignore—because, I suspect, they have absolutely no valid stance with which to rebut it—is that while any and all proper legal recourse in the courts is valid, intervention by the Department of Justice, and more specifically, by the attorney general is not. Period. The only time that the attorney general can legitimately intervene in an election process is when all other legal recourse has been exhausted and election results certified, despite there still existing apparent and compelling evidence of irregularities. Otherwise, there is a hard and fast rule that the attorney general—who represents every citizen of the United States, not the president or a party—cannot intervene to cast doubt on, or to seek to overturn election results, especially when this key public official is doing so in the name of the ruling party and administration to which he or she is beholden. Attorney General William Barr has very apparently run afoul of this rule by announcing that the DOJ would be opening a pre-certification investigation into claims of voter fraud to the detriment of the incumbent.
This is a clear violation of democratic principles. The aim of the rule against the DOJ’s getting involved prior to finalization and certification of the election is self-apparent: It is to ensure that no president can become a dictator by using the machinery of government to neutralize the chances of an opponent’s winning the race. Barr, and by association, Donald Trump, have violated that trust.
The thread-bareness of Trump followers’ affirmation of the legality of the incumbent’s attempts to stall the inevitable and to refuse to concede the other candidate’s election victory lies in a question of legitimacy. The fact is that, to date, after dozens of filings, none of the suits brought by the Trump campaign has managed to make one iota of difference in the overall election results. And the court decisions handed down have mostly been rebuffs so severe that if Trump or his campaign were capable of anything even approaching shame or honor these findings would be a source of profound embarrassment.
In a suit in Michigan in which Republican poll-watchers tried to block certification in Detroit alleging fraud and misconduct, Circuit Court Judge Timothy Kenny ruled that, “it would be an unprecedented exercise of judicial activism for this court to stop the certification process of the Wayne County Board of Canvassers,” adding that “Plaintiffs’ interpretation of events is incorrect and not credible.” The same suit was taken to a federal court under a new title where Trump’s team ended up dropping legal action after a lawyer for the city of Detroit suggested that the president’s campaign was seeking “to try the same case in multiple courtrooms hoping that somebody will provide an endorsement of their baseless conspiracy theories.”
Also in Michigan, four voters sought exclusion of all votes cast in three counties on allegations of fraud and irregularities. They did this with no corroboration, claiming officials had counted the ballots of ineligible voters and citing unverified reports of software glitches and dead people voting that had appeared on Fox News. The suit was later dropped.
A suit regarding the Detroit vote that was only cosmetically different from the one thrown out of court by Judge Kenny and later dropped by a federal court was filed again in yet another court, but was dropped by the plaintiffs themselves only a few days after filing.
When Michigan swung hard toward Biden, a desperate Trump campaign team again tried to halt the count, this time presenting an affidavit from one poll-watcher who said that another poll-watcher (whom she refused to name) told her that she had been told by unnamed poll workers to change the date received on a ballot.
|Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani|
Michigan Court of Claims Judge Cynthia Stephens interpreted the so-called affidavit as “I heard someone else say something.” Addressing the plaintiff, she said, “Tell me how that is not hearsay. Come on now!”
In Pennsylvania, the Trump campaign sought to block certification of voting due to minor errors in otherwise properly signed and cast absentee, mail-in and other ballots. Common Pleas Court Judge James Crumlish denied the viability of any of the claims.
Four Pennsylvania voters later sought to block all votes from four counties alleging violation of the right to equal protection due to different absentee balloting practices from one county to the next. Shortly afterward, seeing the hopelessness of the claim, the Trump team decided to request withdrawal of the suit. The court dropped it and three more similar cases from the docket.
In Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, the Trump team sought to block the counting of six hundred mail-in votes because the Election Board had notified the voters that they had forgotten to fill in missing information on their ballot envelopes. When the attorney for the plaintiff was asked by the judge if any of the errors involved fraud, he admitted that they didn’t. Judge Richard Haaz disallowed the petition to annul the ballots saying, “Voters should not be disenfranchised by reasonably relying upon voting instructions provided by election officials which are consistent with the Election Code.”
These are just a few examples of the similar fates of all of some thirty court filings on behalf of Trump since Election Day. Perhaps the most humiliating was when Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, a supposed legal eagle who hasn’t actually practiced law in decades but is reported to be pulling down twenty thousand dollars a day in Trump-campaign-paid legal fees was chided by a federal judge for the suit he filed last week in Pennsylvania.
District Court Judge Matthew W. Brann, who heard Giuliani’s argument, said that what Trump’s lawyer had presented to the court was “strained legal arguments without merit and (with) speculative accusations.” The judge indicated that what Giuliani filed wasn’t tied to the actual complaint or supported by any evidence.
“In the United States of America, this cannot justify the disenfranchisement of a single voter, let alone all the voters of its sixth-most-populated state. Our people, laws and institutions demand more,” the judge concluded.
Suffice this sampling of the Trump campaign’s exercising of its legal right to date to conclude that while legal, what the president is doing is less than legitimate. The pathetic nature of the filings up to now appears to be nothing more than a smokescreen for the election loss and, worse still, a ruse to create “dozens of court cases” questioning the results, even if those cases are quickly and unceremoniously dropped by the Trump team, in order to create a superficial climate of doubt regarding the election results and the clear legitimacy of President-elect Biden’s win. At last count, although many results still require final certification, Biden had a 5.98 million popular vote lead over Trump and is expected to command a more than seventy-vote lead over Trump in the Electoral College. Given the anemic performance of the Trump campaign’s legal team to date—it’s hard to see how they might have some ace up their sleeve when they’ve failed so miserably to produce any compelling evidence in court up to the present—those results are unlikely to change significantly, if at all, in favor of the incumbent.
The only conclusion, then, is that Trump’s entire strategy—such as it is—in refusing to do what every other president in living memory has done for the good of the Union and concede, is to sow discord, to undermine faith in the system, to basically slash and burn democracy so that if it doesn’t conform to his ambitions it will no longer be viable for his successors and will leave them with an ungovernable population.
These are the tenets of fascism. To scratch, claw and bite one’s way like a rat to the top of a personality cult that rewards dictatorial charisma over democratic vigor and that prefers blind loyalty to individuality and the dictates of a populist mob to respect for civil rights.
Already in Georgia this week—where the Republican governor and secretary of state have done the right thing by placing party beneath country and by not only ensuring an absolutely transparent election but also by certifying the results after a machine count and a hand count—pro-Trump protesters took to the streets to object to the clearly fair outcome. They declared themselves “the new Republicans” and dubbed “traitors” the governor, the secretary of state and a handful of other Republicans who have suggested it’s time for the president to concede and open the way to transition.
As the final results are confirmed and certified, it is likely that this kind of unrest could become much wider spread and perhaps more violent, since Trump’s disregard for democracy and his efforts to cast doubt on what one of his own appointed—and subsequently fired—Homeland Security officials called “the most secure election in history”, have “succeeded” in creating the perception among an estimated seventy percent of Republicans that they have been cheated and that the election has been stolen from them. It seems, from my experience, to be futile to ask any of these election deniers why on earth, if the Democrats really did “throw” the election, they would have permitted the GOP to do so incredibly well in the House, where the party gained numerous seats, or in the Senate, where control has come down to the fate of two run-off elections in a single state. They simply glaze over and repeat the litany that Trump was cheated, when nothing could be further from the truth.
Having resisted and survived dictatorial rule elsewhere in the world, I am disheartened and gravely concerned about the trend that Donald Trump’s four years in office have wrought in my native US. Polarization of rival parties, the prioritizing of dogma over truth, the successful impact of institutionalized lies and propaganda on the thinking of an enormous proportion of the population and the elevation of a sociopathic and narcissistic personality to Pope-like levels of popularity based on such critically destructive ideologies as racism, xenophobia, ultra-nationalism and hatred of “the other”.
I return often to the question that I have heard Americans ask time and again: How could a country like Germany ever have fallen under the spell of a dictator like Hitler? All I can do is point to what is happening right now and say that history repeats itself.
The conservatives who helped bring Hitler to power by largely “democratic” means, never believed that he would be able to use the clout that they had bestowed on him as chancellor to later create a single-party dictatorship. But the echoes of the past are there when, going into this election, we heard Trump repeatedly say that the only way he could lose was if there was fraud. Just as German conservatives fancied that they could “control” Hitler and “tame” his Nazi followers, so too the GOP thought that they could control Trump and his followers. Instead, their party has been usurped and is now the party of Trump and they are being held hostage by Trump’s base, which they so fear losing that they are willing to try and help them subvert democracy by continuing to deny the indisputable facts of this month’s election.
German journalist Theodor Wolff wrote in the Frankfurter Zeitung shortly after the Nazis won power in the country’s parliament that there was nothing to fear from Hitler. Although Hitler would surely fight the left tooth and nail and although it was true that he was backed by a virulent and violent base, there was "a barrier, over which violence cannot proceed" in Germany. Germany, he claimed, was a nation that was too “proud of its freedom of speech and thought” to allow itself to live under tyranny.
|The right was sure it could control Hitler|
In January of 1933, Wolff wrote: “It is a hopeless misjudgment to think that one could force a dictatorial regime upon the German nation. [...] The diversity of the German people calls for democracy.”
It is truly hard to watch what is happening in the US right now and not be reminded of this. Although democracy has apparently willed out, make no mistake that if Trump and many of his followers could overturn this free and fair election by whatever means necessary and with total disregard for democracy, they almost undoubtedly would.
What happens over the next four years after the worrying events of the last four will be of capital importance in determining the survival of American democracy. To paraphrase Theodor Wolff, will “the diversity of the American people (continue to) call for democracy?”
We shall see.
Saturday, November 14, 2020
Conservative Republican former President George W. Bush just did what the current GOP doesn't have the guts, the grace, the ethics or the honesty to do: congratulated President-elect Joe Biden and VP-elect Kamala Harris on their election win.
He is apparently not only following normal democratic etiquette (in other words subordinating party interests to the voice of the people), but also attempting to serve as an example to the rest of the GOP. The thing is, it is no longer the GOP that he presided over in the era of 911 when Americans were much more united. It is the usurped GOP of Donald J. Trump—no longer the unifying party of Lincoln, but the divisive and dishonest party of Trump.
In that context, Mr. Bush can probably expect to be catalogued by congressional Trumpsters as a "dangerous socialist"—as former President Dwight Eisenhower would be if he were alive today.
That said, at least he'll be in good company, which is more than one can say for any Republican who still honors the name but is remaining acquiescently silent in the face of such shameless and tyrannical behavior.
Friday, November 13, 2020
US President Donald Trump's own Department of Homeland Security has just rejected his claims of a rigged election. In a public statement, the DHS unequivocally described to what degree the 2020 presidential election was valid, fair and utterly transparent, stating: "The November 3rd election was the most secure in American history.”
Maybe it's time for the GOP leadership to get their heads out of their...valises, and admit the same for the sake of democracy and the country. With the president having gone underground, in a fog of self-pity and bile, the rest of the political establishment, at least, should put on their big-boy pants and join the real world, for the sake of the Nation.
Joe Biden is the president-elect. Get over it and get to work, because the president is missing in action and conspicuous by his absence in the midst of the worst pandemic health crisis in living memory.
Wednesday, November 11, 2020
US democracy is under imminent domestic threat. The once unthinkable is happening under our noses. There is election interference and the threat is coming, not from Russia, China or Iran, but from the most imponderable of sources—the forty-fifth president of the United States and the highest offices of his administration. They are, in essence, seeking to orchestrate a virtual coup and to spark civil insurrection by creating a false scenario that they are maintaining with lies, innuendo and false testimony.
The threat is very real, although so far the country’s judicial system—not its Department of “Justice”—is staunchly resisting the attempt. It is only a matter of time until we see which of the two forces will win out, since “all the president’s men” in Congress are complicit in this fabrication. But in the meantime, every true small-d democrat needs to stand up and be counted, or, failing that, admit—whether internally or overtly—that he or she is on the side of autocratic rule.
This is not a drill.
Up until the recent intervention of Attorney General William Barr in the president’s delusional attempt to deny reality and pretend that he has even a snowball’s chance in hell of winning the current election, the futile actions being taken by the Trump administration’s campaign team were legal, if questionable in their legitimacy. If, on a county by county level, the Trump campaign team had reasonable doubts—the key word here being “reasonable”—about this or that ballot count, then, under the law, they could legally take those doubts to the appropriate court. They have done this multiple times already, and have overwhelmingly had their cases judicially dismissed for lack of any legal merit whatsoever. They have a right to persist as long as Judges accept hearing their filings. But the courts, despite uncommon pressure from the administration and the GOP, are doing their job and their patriotic duty to democracy by demanding facts, not hearsay. As in the case of a Trump filing that quoted a postal worker as claiming he had been pressured to hold up delivery of probable GOP-voted ballots, only to have the “witness” recant once he was standing tall before the court.
While legal, such attorney interventions have been a clear slap in the face to Democratic and Republican election officials alike, who have done a phenomenal job in their role as the last line of defense for democracy, by ensuring absolute transparency and meticulous ballot-counting in one of the most contentious elections of all time. Nor have they been concerned about the questions that the Trump campaign legal team has posed, standing by the clarity of both the polling procedures and the count, and assuring the public that results can be questioned as often as the candidates like, but will be what they are, because they are authentic and Trump has lost the race by a very decisive margin.
That margin is currently predicted by reliable poll-watchers to be no less than five million popular votes and, perhaps, as many as seventy or more electoral votes. In other words, the 2020 election is all over but the gnashing of teeth and bawling for Team Trump. And Donald Trump’s refusal to concede (as every other candidate in recent memory has done by this point) and the GOP’s continued tolerance of this puerile, narcissistic presidential whim, promise to go down in election history as a profound embarrassment for the Republican Party and as a potential source of very real shame for American democracy. Especially since the US is not some remote, inconsequential nation whose political comings and goings can pass totally unnoticed, but a powerful country once looked up to as the leader of the free world, but increasingly viewed under the influence of the Trump phenomenon as a tin-pot banana republic hiding behind First World cosmetics.
That perception was vastly augmented this week when the administration’s all-out effort to circle its wagons and refuse to surrender to the overwhelming tide of democratic outpouring meandered out of the territory of illegitimacy and into the realm of questionable legality. This happened when Attorney General William Barr cavalierly overlooked his appointed role as overseer of the rule of law in America and—as he has already done on no few occasions since taking office—used the sobering power of his post and taxpayer dollars to launch a partisan defense of the Trump campaign in detriment to the will of more than seventy-five million American voters. Never before in the history of the United States, has an attorney general abused his power in this way, by preemptively announcing the launching of probes into alleged election irregularities prior to final and official certification of the election results. Particularly on the basis of such factually thin accusations and hearsay.
And while the attorney general was busy aiding and abetting Trump in his ruse to call the validity of the election into question, the president himself was making moves unmistakably similar to those that I’ve witnessed as a foreign correspondent in no few coup attempts in other parts of the world. A lame duck with only two months to go before the democratically inevitable transfer of power—for the first time in American history we have doubts about how peaceful it will be—the president, in his role as commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces, is shaking up the hierarchy at the Pentagon. Some news sources inside the military have referred to “the beheadings” that have taken place this week, in which the president has replaced career higher-ups with Trump loyalists.
And Trump has further doubled down by making sure that, so far, the Biden transition team has received no sign that it will be given access to data, intelligence and procedures to which it must be made privy before taking office in January. The idea being, why should they when neither the president nor his nefarious enablers will admit that Biden has won. Fortunately, Biden’s forty-seven years in public service and eight years as the nation’s vice-president—one of the most engaged vice-presidents in history—make him less vulnerable to these stumbling blocks than a less experienced president-elect would be. But it is still an astonishing attack on American ideals and traditions, as well as on the spirit of the Transition Act of 1963.
And yet, there can be no sincere denying that Biden has won. Indeed, specialized voting statistics experts estimate that, in an election that garnered massive turnout, when the last vote is counted, President-elect Biden will have won by the largest margin of any challenger since Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Again, if this sort of thing were happening in any country but the United States of America, US intelligence would be observing it as an impending coup d’état.
But let’s return to Attorney General Barr, who has edged out even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for the ad hoc post of Enabler in Chief. Shortly prior to the election, there were those who sought to defend the AG’s restraint. Not only had he incurred Trump’s fury by telling the press that he didn’t figure the Durham Investigation would turn up any prosecutable wrongdoing against former President Obama or former Vice-President Biden in the 2016 election, or with regard to a probe into the activities of Biden’s son Hunter, but he also refused to open a separate Justice Department probe into the Bidens when the president promised his base that there would be one.
Earlier this week, however, Barr’s Trumpian restraint ended when he issued a memorandum providing authorization for a federal probe into President Trump’s clearly and provably false claims of “widespread nationwide voter fraud”. Trump’s fevered ego, which has never been able to accept defeat, thus got a booster shot of steroid-like vigor from none other than the country’s chief law enforcement officer, who, through his memo, gave credence to the president’s absurd claims that, for instance, anti-GOP voter fraud had been perpetrated with the acquiescence of the Republican secretary of state in Georgia and with that of the Republican city commissioner of Philadelphia, based entirely on the fact that the incumbent was losing in both places. In Trump’s specious “logic”, how on earth could a Democrat win where a Republican was in charge of the vote?
All Barr had to do was tell his boss that it happened because the US is a democracy and election results are a fact, not a whim. But instead, he decided to use taxpayer dollars to indulge the president’s hissy fit, not even bothering to wait for final certification of the election outcome or for lower court decisions regarding any and all claims of possible fraud. As such, the AG used his powerful office, which is supposed to serve and protect the interests of every American, as a key piece in a conspiracy theory created and perpetuated by the president and his corrupt enablers at the highest levels of the GOP.
As a result, Richard Pilger, the Justice Department official charged with overseeing all investigations into election crimes, resigned his post on the spot. “Having familiarized myself with the new policy and its ramifications,” he wrote in an internal office message, “I must regretfully resign from my role as director of the Election Crimes Branch.” His resignation was accompanied by a letter of protest signed by some one thousand six hundred DOJ attorneys. Pilger’s reasons for resigning and for the attorneys’ protest were clearly based on the fact that Barr’s memo ran counter to longstanding Justice Department best practices that include never investigating election fraud until local officials have completed all counting and certified the vote. The whole idea behind this practice is to prevent any federal administration’s bringing pressure to bear on local officials as a means of changing the outcome of an election. The fact that Barr is doing precisely that appears to make his motives crystal clear.
Barr’s move comes against a murky background in which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell—with whom the AG met the same day that he issued his memo—defended incumbent Trump’s supposed right to challenge the election totals even as they are still being counted. McConnell is clearly, like the president, subordinating what is best for the United States to his own political ambitions. He thinks he needs the unbroken support of the Trump base in order to maintain a Republican majority in the Senate during run-offs set for January 5, and that, to him, is worth burning the institution of American democracy to the ground. The theory being applied by both Trump and his surrogates is the same one that drove the Nazis rise to power in Germany in the nineteen-thirties: namely, that if you tell a big lie often enough, long enough and loud enough, it will eventually gain acceptance as “truth” among the masses.
Prior to McConnell’s tribute to his Caesar, in this fateful week for American democracy, Trump fired Defense Secretary Mark Esper with whom he has been on the outs ever since Esper rightly refused to obey a call from the president to deploy US troops against citizens protesting the George Floyd murder on the streets of American cities. There are rumors that “the beheadings” might continue, with CIA Director Gina Haspel’s and FBI Director Christopher Wray’s potentially being the next ones in line to roll.
Since Election Day, it is hard not to come to the conclusion that the president of the United States has gone full-blown, bat-shit crazy, raising the imminent-danger level of his previous conspiracy theories and unmitigated prevarication to that of a national security risk. Especially since it is playing on the paranoia of the most violent fringes of his base supporters, to the point that a scenario of armed civil insurrection is not at all unimaginable. The president is, in effect, seeking, no matter how insane it may seem, to ignore the clear outcome of a valid democratic election and to install an autocratic regime in the United States of America. And while this sci-fi-like phenomenon of a rogue president trying to overthrow American democracy should have always at least been a contingency we needed to contemplate, what never should have been in the cards was the adherence of any of the country’s other institutions to one man’s insane ambitions. But here we are...
As for my own reaction to all of this, I’ve been a journalist, political observer, researcher and commentator most of my adult life and, at age seventy, have never before witnessed the astonishing phenomenon currently unfolding in the US in any major democracy on earth. That it is taking place in my own country which, like many other people worldwide, I have always seen as one of the greatest democracies on earth, and indeed as the founder of modern democracy as the world knows it, is a source of unfathomable pain and sadness to me.
I continue to respect the ideas and ideals of conservatives, liberals, libertarians, democratic socialists and many other shades of political philosophy in between. And as always, I am ever open to the lively exchange of ideas and to the democratic idea of finding a middle ground on which we can all work together for the common good. But I no longer consider Trumpism to fall within these boundaries.
The fact that anyone who fervently believes in democracy might have voted for Trump in 2016, and even again in 2020, might challenge my own sense of suspension of disbelief, but I will, to paraphrase Voltaire, “defend to the death” their right to vote for the legal candidate of their choice. But what I can no longer abide is anyone’s attempted defense of President Trump’s move to discredit a properly conducted election, his refusal to accept the proven results and concede the victory of his rival in the best American spirit of a peaceful and democratic transfer of power, or his clear and continuing attempts to breed false doubts about the election and to incite sedition and potential violence as a means of rejecting the voice of democracy and illegally and illegitimately maintaining his grip on power.
Nor can I any longer tolerate anyone’s claim that this is an election like any other or that Donald Trump was ever “just another president”. His consistent rejection and/or subversion of every notion of American tradition and ideals, of everything that has ever been right or decent or fair about the American constitutional system renders him, to my mind, incomparable not only to his Democratic predecessor, but also to former Republican presidents including Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush and even Richard M. Nixon, all of whom served, in their own way, in the name of the American people and respecting the authority and sanctity of the Constitution and the rule of law.
Donald Trump is not an outlier. He is a wrecker and destroyer whose actions only serve his own ambitious purposes. Be forewarned that I, for one, will no longer tolerate the perpetuation of his lies as “alternative truth” or his autocratic designs as “politics as usual”. This election is “the hill I will die on” for American democracy.
Tuesday, November 3, 2020
Today is Election Day. This is not just another day for me, even though I already voted absentee weeks ago, as I have for decades, except in 2016, when I actually flew back to my native Ohio and went to my polling place in Cuyahoga County to cast my ballot. That was an act of faith for me, as it was for the majority of American voters who—by a margin of nearly three million—did not vote for the current occupant of the White House. And let me just say that, above and beyond the election outcome, what I’m seeing on this particular Second Tuesday, makes me feel the most optimistic that I have since 2016.
Perhaps the reason that Election Day is such a special day for me is because, as a young reporter and correspondent, back in the mid-1970s to early 1980s, I had the opportunity to live and work under a harsh military dictatorship, under which the ballot boxes had been locked up and the citizens of the country where I was living had no voice in the political and social process. Or at least, the only voice they had was the one they were willing to venture at risk to their physical freedom, their lives and the lives of their loved ones. During that time reporting on my base country and on surrounding countries where authoritarian regimes were also firmly ensconced, I came to truly appreciate the democratic system under which I had been reared, with all of its faults, but more significantly, with all of its virtues.
The lessons I learned through the risks I took in those years in order to report as accurately as possible the horrors and abuses that were taking place under that regime led me, in 1986, once democracy had been restored and I was managing editor of a newspaper, to accept a post that the US ambassador offered me on the Fulbright Scholarship Commission, a program designed to promote understanding through education between the US and other nations. I did so because I felt it was important to send a message of solidarity and friendship among democracies with the US providing an example of outreach to countries seeking to consolidate their only recently regained democratic status. I felt that the importance of this was rooted in the fact that the US was one of the world’s most successful democracies as well as the biggest.
Because of this unique learning experience of witnessing tyranny close up and personal, I’ve been particularly dismayed by what I’ve seen in the US over the past four years. This anxiety has been heightened not so much by a president who has shown utter disdain for the democratic process, civil rights and the rule of law, but by a hijacked ruling party that has let him get away with it and by a large sector of the population that has not only acquiesced to, but has enthusiastically embraced the president’s authoritarian designs and penchant for violent division.
Many people feel that I exaggerate when I refer to the rise of authoritarianism in the US, but I have seen this movie before and I know how it ends. If there is one lesson I have learned well it is that populist dictators don’t rise to absolute power in spite of their people but because of them. The road to authoritarianism is paved with rights abdicated by, not taken from the people. It is only after that authoritarian power has been consolidated that people lose their rights completely and the reality of autocratic rule becomes obvious. But by then, it is too late. Ask Russia. Ask Venezuela.
So why am I optimistic? Because for way too long now, I’ve noted how many of my compatriots give lip-service to American democracy, but without accepting responsibility for it. There is all too often an attitude of democracy’s being an inviolable institution that, once firmly established, takes care of itself. In my own very real experience, nothing could be further from the truth. Though to many it may sound corny and cliché, we the people must defend democracy daily, a defense which starts with the democratic principle that, while I may disapprove of what you say, I will defend to the death your right to say it. But also that when we see the ugly shadow of tyranny rearing its head, we have an obligation not to remain silent but to make our voices heard.
The most effective way of making one’s voice count in a democracy is by voting. In some democracies the vote is compulsory. In the US, where it is one of our greatest rights, but optional, people in recent years have been largely apathetic about exercising this sacred democratic right, with usually only about half of those eligible actually casting a ballot. Even in 2016, a highly contentious presidential election, only fifty-five percent of eligible Americans cast their vote, or about one hundred thirty-eight million voters.
My optimism flourished this morning, then, when I awoke to the news that, whether by mail-in, absentee or early-voting, a hundred million Americans had already cast their vote, smashing all election records. And news throughout the day today tends to show that actual in-person voting at the traditional polling stations is heavy.
Until the results are in, it’s impossible to know what that means in terms of which ticket will win the race. But what it indicates to me is that the vast majority of the people of the United States have been aroused from their political slumber over the past four years and, like never before in the recent history of the United States, have awakened to the fact that democracy doesn’t happen on its own. We make it happen. And if the current administration has done nothing else in favor of democracy, there is at least this—that the people are awake and, one way or another, taking responsibility for the destiny of the country.