I am profoundly sad today. Yesterday, the country I love, the country I served, and the liberal democracy I believed in revealed itself to be under the thumb of an ultra-conservative, self-serving minority.
I remember the racist backlash when Michelle Obama told a 2008 primary campaign audience,
“For the first time in my adult life, I am really proud of my country, because it feels like hope is making a comeback … not just because Barack has done well, but because I think people are hungry for change.”
I too was proud – for the same reason. We were about to elect an African American, running on a platform of “hope and change,” to the presidency of the United States. I was all in.
But eight years later, thanks to an archaic, anachronistic, Electoral College system, an amoral, ignorant, uninformed, racist, misogynist, draft-dodging anti-democrat was elected to the same office – even though he did not win a majority of the vote. That’s when the scales fell from my eyes.
Today the Supreme Court, including the three justices he appointed, indicated it is planning to take away the established right of a woman and her doctor to decide the future of her pregnancy. A leaked draft opinion revealed that five conservative justices, all of whom affirmed the importance of stare decisis (precedent) in their confirmation hearings, are poised to reverse 50 years of settled law, overturn Roe vs. Wade, and deny women their established right to an abortion.
But today’s sadness extends far beyond taking away a woman’s right to control her own reproductive health. In recent years, other changes have shown us the anti-democratic vector but until now I believed we could reverse the trend at the ballot box. The truth is hard, but the list of America’s failings is long and shows just how far and fast we are moving away from a true democracy.
In October of 2021 the New York Times reported that China’s dictator, Xi Jinping, “shared with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia a belief that ‘autocracy is the wave of the future and democracy can’t function’ in the complexities of the modern world.” President Biden responded by telling reporters that, “This is a battle between the utility of democracies in the 21st century and autocracies. We’ve got to prove democracy works.”
I don’t know precisely how we failed to uphold the Founder’s vision and where or when we passed the point-of-no-return (PNR). It was somewhere in the last 60 years, and I was around for all of it. I’ve been the frog in the pot filled with pleasantly tepid water. I stayed there as it was gradually heated. I, like the frog, would have boiled to death had it not been for Donald Trump. I knew the temp was rising but didn’t feel the danger until I saw his scorched earth attack on our democratic norms and institutions. He wasn’t solely responsible for what Zorba the Greek called “the full catastrophe,” but he and his posse put the final nails in the coffin.
The tragedy lies in the fact that our founding documents had the bones to build on. The Founders studied and debated alternatives to build a system with institutions that protected citizens against the tyranny like the one they were rebelling against. It wasn’t perfect, but it functioned for almost 200 years.
Those documents were the foundation of the American experiment, and it’s only fair to ask why I’ve lost faith in the American experiment. Here are the reasons I see for the unraveling of our democracy:
· Slavery – the root cause and reason for American racism
· Federalism – keeps us from equal rule of law solutions across state boundaries
· Electoral College – a flawed device created to equalize population disparities
· Gerrymandering – demographic engineering that gives a political advantage
· Judiciary – the Federalist Society’s politicization of the independent branch
· Education – failure to adequately fund and teach critical thinking skills
· Militarism – America’s dependence on the military-industrial complex
· Police – reliance on a military approach to law enforcement
· Infrastructure – failure to fund and maintain basic infrastructure
· Healthcare – the only developed nation without a universal healthcare coverage
· Income inequality – a system that favors the rich to the detriment of all others
I’ve always described myself as a short-term pessimist but long-term optimist. My personal PNR came on January 6, 2021 when those states of mind swapped places. Today, I see a fractured, dysfunctional, polarized country with no viable reconciliation in sight. My generation failed to keep progress on track. I spent 7 years defending it and many more as an active citizen before seeing it unravel. I fear for my children’s future and even more for my grandchildren’s. Maybe they will be more successful than we were in finding a course correction. For their sakes, I hope so.
I continue to believe that education, free speech, and a free press are the foundations of a democratic state, and I believe in the power of words – written and spoken. I don’t know if what I write changes minds, but I have several friends who disagree with my politics but are regular readers and continue to give me feedback. I respect their opinions and hope our dialogue keeps us moving toward a safe place somewhere in the middle.
Today’s headline reflects America’s polarized upset over Roe v. Wade. The “reveal,” in a “leaked” draft of the opinion, is yet another example of a breached norm. This one further undermines the reputation and credibility of the Supreme Court, an institution we have always relied on for apolitical independence. Chief Justice Roberts has promised a full investigation, and it’s the right thing to do. But it doesn’t lessen my profound sadness. It only adds to it. I sincerely believe we have passed the point of no return, but I’ve been wrong before. The closet optimist in me hopes a following wind will kick in and prove me wrong again.