When our legislature failed to reach compromise and Republican Senators forced a rule change to push Gorsuch through, we gave up any notion of an independent Supreme Court. Maybe we never thought we had it, or maybe it just seemed worth it to get Roe v. Wade overturned, but whatever the logic, it’s gone. The traditions and processes that were in place to protect the Supreme Court from political extremes are no more, if they ever were. So one of our major institutions designed to keep power in check and protect civil rights is permanently undermined.
When we allow people in political power to denounce any media outlet they disapprove of as “fake,” when we perpetuate that label and seek to discredit everything they report, we give up the notion of a free press. Maybe the press made the mistake of making their leanings too transparent, or maybe the proliferation of actual fake news during the election campaign chipped away at public trust. But again, whatever the reason, one of the pillars of our democracy, whose job it is to hold those in power accountable, is permanently undermined.
So what’s left? What are the democratic institutions and traditions that we trust and are willing to invest in for the sake of our nation’s future? Separation of Church and State? Yesterday Trump declared that in this country we worship God and that he was bringing “Merry Christmas” back, so it looks like we’re willing to give that up too. Law enforcement and intelligence? Nope. We’ve granted the President power to insult, bully, and dismiss any official whose actions feel threatening to him. The legislative branch? Apparently not. They were the swamp we wanted drained. The presidency itself? A society that deems inexperience and a penchant for name-calling positive qualities in its president wouldn’t seem to have a great deal of respect even for its highest office.
Tomorrow, many of us will eat hot dogs and set off fireworks to celebrate our freedom. But I’m not feeling particularly secure in my freedom right now. I’m feeling vulnerable to abuses of power. Is that just because I lost the election? I don’t think so. I’ve lost elections before, on both sides. But even when I didn’t like the decisions being made by those in power, I trusted that my rights were protected by forces that transcended political party. Those forces are what I’m worried about -not the party in power.
If you are feeling secure in your freedom right now, are you sure you aren’t mistaking satisfaction with the status quo for confidence in our democracy? Is it possible that it just feels good to have the erosion of protections working in your favor? What if someone with the same disregard for democratic process that Trump has shown, but at the other extreme, rises to power? What if the people in power don’t share your interests, privilege a religion other than yours, maybe even see your power and privilege as a threat to freedom and equality for all? If those people begin to cross the line and abuse their power in the interest of setting things straight, do you trust that our democratic institutions are strong enough to hold their power in check, protect your rights and freedoms, and keep our democracy grounded while we ride out the wave?
There are large numbers of people in this country who have never enjoyed the freedoms that many of us feel we have, and that obviously can’t be ignored. But it worries me to see us carelessly dismantling the structures that make freedom possible at all. If we agree on nothing else, we should be gladly joining hands to preserve and strengthen the traditions that keep this experiment running, even with all its imperfections.