Monday, May 21, 2018

American democracy: why worry about it

Updated and revised: 7/16-20/2018

A version of this was published in the Sky Hi News, July 25, 2018. 
1958-1959 I was spending my university junior year abroad in Berlin. It was a heady time for a US political science major wondering what did happen and why what was happening now was going so wrong and so right simultaneously. It was thirteen years after World WW II ended. I walked through the rubble and desolate stretches of bombed out spaces  on both sides of the Brandenburg Gate. The Wall had not yet been built. It was a hands-on view as one form of fascism lay in ruins and the Soviets consolidated control of their conquered eastern sector.  I met a young medical student from Yugoslavia, then a communist country headed by dictator Tito. We later married, and we were together for over the next 50 years until he passed away in 2015. He became a US citizen, active in civic affairs, with certificates and plaques hanging on our walls to attest how much he loved life in America, democracy, and the freedom to pursue his dreams. We visited Yugoslavia and his family when it began to loosen up beginning in 1972  and then on the average of every two years until 2015. I experienced it in their brutal Stalinist era, fear of a late night knock at the door, their period of more  benign dictatorship with limited capitalism, and  their pains of a war for independence  to become a democratic  Croatia.
This is what I  have learned  from these  life experiences.  When people are fearful, confused by chaos out of their control, feel victimized or losing economic and political power they once had, communism and fascism find fertile ground. There is a human streak longing to be part of the ruling group (some call that tribalism or racism) and to point blame so they can put down the offenders and rationalize abuses of democratic institutions to gain and maintain absolute power. At the same time, those feeling wronged look for a leader to lead them from the wilderness.   These totalitarian dictators like Hitler and Mussolini seized the reins of government by manipulating existing democracies. They then began consolidating power, little by little,  often under the public' radar or with majority’s approval. The fascists gained control of media by  destroying opposition press. They demanded total loyalty to them personally instead of to the rule of law  Theirs were the only truth and facts.

.I would wish none of this on anyone, but it is beginning again. Dictators and autocrats like Putin of Russia and Erdogan of Turkey cloak themselves with words and sham  elections which  are neither free nor do they allow  serious opposition, jailing or killing them or denying them access to media. Donald . Trump admires both of them publicly and is trying to copy their methods. Trump is promoting TV and other  media outlets that suppress negative news and data , calling critics "enemies of the people", .dishonest their news 'fake".  His racist oratory gins up fear and loathing of immigrants with lies about their crime rate,   increases in migrant border crossings, and the cost to the treasury which, if based on his own government's data, are the exact opposite of his rhetoric.  Like modern autocrats, he contends he can act above the law, claiming he cannot be prosecuted for certain actions, and he has power to pardon himself and his administration’s loyalists. 
Free and secure elections are the foundation of American democracy. Destroy our faith in their outcome, and we have dealt our democracy a fundamental  blow.   Russian meddling in 2016 set about to do just that  While there is no provable evidence Russians changed the 2016 election's outcome, Special Counsel Robert  Mueller documented in his recent inictments  that  Russians  have demonstrated they have the capability to  penetrate our election systems to wreck havoc on the outcome .and to  turn elections into shams we cannot trust. 

 So why am I worried about American democracy's future?  So many do not care.  Per a July 19 CBS poll found 61% of Rebublicans  are little or not at all  concerned about Russian election meddling , while  Trump maintains  44% job  approval  by all voters polled,  according to a yougov/Economist poll  July 15-17. The GOP House just voted to turn  down funding state elections systems to enhance  etheir  cyber security defense  measures . Democracy is fragile, and its survival depends upon the strong support of the governed. That support is teetering on the edge in a closely divided  nation. 

  Last week GOP House members even refused to fund state election systems' enhanced cyber security, claiming voter ID laws would keep Russians out.  Voter ID has nothing to do with the control Russia can have over your vote. Stupid is as stupid does.

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