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Not-for-Profit, Award-Winning Community News and Views for Windham County, Vermont • Since 2006
Voices / Column

Our republic, decimated and discarded as we watch

We are living through a failure of conscience, of intellect, and of will that every American needs to understand and face with the utmost consciousness — before it’s too late

Elayne Clift has written about women, politics, and social-justice issues from the earliest days of this newspaper. For more of her work, visit elayne-clift.com/blog/.

Saxtons River

Following the debacle created by Attorney General William Barr when he decided unilaterally that Donald Trump wasn’t guilty of collusion or obstruction of justice, it seems appropriate to declare that we are facing dark times in the United States.

It should be clear by now that we are experiencing an unprecedented, deeply dangerous Constitutional crisis that prompts a question.

Why aren’t Democrats, some media, and the public reacting more vigorously to the growing nightmare of encroaching autocracy, if not outright dictatorship?

Political pundits will continue to deconstruct what happened following the release of the Mueller report for some time. Ideas about what went wrong and why regarding the myriad illegalities rapidly turning us into a Banana Republic will, we hope, ultimately be revealed.

I leave that discussion to others.

I am compelled instead to focus on damaging failures by a disturbing number of Democratic leaders, some seasoned media figures, and a somnolent public, who seem insufficiently concerned with the serious threat this country faces.

Our republic was so carefully crafted on a set of principles grounded in the highest ideals and structured in a way as to ensure their continuity.

Now, more than 200 years later, as we watch those principles and ideals being decimated and discarded, how can it be that — with so many canaries in the coal mine — about 40 percent of Americans appear to be inured to the dangers ahead as we face a Constitutional crisis of huge proportion?

I repeat: A Constitutional, not a political, crisis — one that every sentient citizen ought to be deeply troubled by, and none more so than our elected officials.

And yet the speaker of the House of Representatives, and other Democrats, say that Donald Trump isn’t worth impeaching. Or that it’s too soon to impeach. Or that we need more solid evidence of the deep, pervasive culture of corruption this administration and this president have spawned.

I am reminded of the saying, “Today may be too soon, but tomorrow will surely be too late.”

For while I understand the argument for taking the time to build a solid case for impeachment in the face of Republican recalcitrance, political posturing, and lack of moral or ethical behavior, I also worry that a duplicative, drawn-out inquiry — and, more dangerously, expecting voters to rid us of our present scourge at the polls next year — is sheer folly.

Too many voters don’t seem to understand what’s happening before their eyes, and many of them have no interest in the Mueller report.

They put Donald Trump in office — or at least the Electoral College did — and now they want to “move on,” while disinformation, voter disenfranchisement, and Russian hacking are likely to grow.

* * *

It bears repeating that this is not a political issue. It’s not even solely a moral or ethical issue.

We are living through a failure of conscience, of intellect, and of will that every American needs to understand and face with the utmost consciousness.

One need only remember the terrible travesties of this administration: the caging of children; the scapegoating of Muslims; the sanctioning of violence, hate crimes, and white supremacy; the vile utterings and copious lies of an ill-equipped and often cruel leader who reveres dictators; the injustices increasingly suffered by so many Americans; the rape of sacred lands and pollution of the environment; the dangerous rollbacks in regulation in the name of profit; the threat of nationalizing media and arresting journalists; and more.

Consider just this one fact: The Department of Justice has itself just obstructed justice.

People can argue that we need to address “real issues,” like health care, jobs, and the economy. I agree that the media has failed to expose or emphasize numerous policy issues we face while allowing Mr. Trump to suck all the oxygen out of the airwaves.

But none of these things will ever be attended to if we don’t recognize the urgency of defeating autocracy before it’s too late.

* * *

As for the canaries in the coal mine, none is more prescient, it seems to me, than the deepening misogyny and racism we are witnessing.

Where, for example, were the Democrats in Congress when Ilhan Omar was vilified because she is a woman, a person of color, and a Muslim?

And surely the media, while drawing attention to dangerous Trumpian demagogues hell-bent on destroying our systems of governance, needs to cover more fairly the competent women running for president.

Every one of us should be outraged by moves to marginalize, trivialize, and punish these extraordinary women. Such dismissal of women as potential candidates is reminiscent of the underbelly of countries dominated by patriarchal autocracies.

The late Norman Birnbaum, illustrious journalist and scholar, noted that “[m]odern authoritarianism is not subtle, but it is omnipresent.” He also said that “[a]voidance, falsification, and trivialization mark our encounter with past and future.”

He was right — modern authoritarianism is staring us in the face.

Let’s hope, therefore, that Winston Churchill was also right.

If we act wisely, this may not be the beginning of the end. With enough courage to impeach, perhaps it is “the end of the beginning,” as Churchill put it.

A new beginning couldn’t be more timely or urgent.

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