Reminder that July 4th is a day to honor and protect freedom

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The Constitution, courtesy pixabay.com
This Independence Day, the anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, let’s not forget the institutions that the Founding Fathers felt were so important that they fought a war against an empire to establish them. Institutions that the Founders established to help protect freedom and stave off totalitarian rule in America as long as possible. Institutions like a free and independent press, freedom of assembly, and the freedom to vote and participate in the election of our leaders through representative government.

As the (very) conservative Ronald Reagan once said, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it on to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”

Freedom is fragile. It can be taken away in a heartbeat. Especially today, when so many of these institutions are under attack from the very people we have charged to defend them.


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Trump “attacking” CNN – courtesy talkingpointsmemo.com
The President on a daily basis undermines the free and independent press. He calls CNN (and any media outlet that criticizes him, really) “fake news.” As the (very) conservative John McCain put it, dictators get started by attacking the free press.

The free press is the only profession protected by the Constitution. It is this way for a reason – media must be free and independent in order to speak truth to power. In order to hold leaders accountable, a lawmaker or elected official need to constantly believe that every conversation they have or decision they make could end up in the paper the next day. This is why the press is so important in a democracy, and also why authoritarian rulers have sought to undermine them from time immemorial. It’s the same reason the sitting President wishes to undermine them – because they publish politically inconvenient reporting about him and his administration, reporting he would rather not have the public know.

Critics of CNN and liberal or left-leaning media have often said that they are “liars” – that they make things up in order to damage Trump politically. While this is not only false – it is irrelevant, because their existence alone establishes accountability. This is, again, why the free press is protected in the first amendment. It is a cornerstone to democracy.


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Dana Loesch from the recent NRA ad – courtesy pastemagazine.com
Or how about the attacks on freedom of assembly? The NRA released a video that is controversial even among faithful gun owners, because it paints those that protest and assemble as enemies of the state. The gist of the video – while this is left unsaid, it can be inferred – is that we need guns now more than ever because we may need to shoot liberals. The video conjures imagery that is, essentially, a call to violence against those who disagree with conservatives politically. It is a dog whistle for civil war.

Let alone all of the rhetoric that has been swirling since the shooting of Steve Scalise and other GOP lawmakers that paint liberals and Democrats as terrorists, equating them with radical Islamists. This is an attack on the freedom to assemble, a freedom that is once again enshrined in the constitution for a reason. People need legal protection in order to stand up to their government so that their voices cannot be silenced by violent means.


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Donald Trump and Kris Kobach, courtesy salon.com
Or what about the attacks on the right to vote? It is no secret that the Republican party has used Voter ID and other measures as a means to keep minorities from voting for Democrats. This has been proven time and time again. But now it seems the alt-right has taken to voter suppression as a way to retroactively remake the white patriarchy.

As you’ve might have heard, 27 states refused to hand over sensitive voter information to Trump’s voter fraud commission. (Edit: the number of states that refused to send information, whole or in part, is now up to 41) This commission is spearheaded by Kris Kobach, a very intelligent and highly educated white nationalist who believes that immigration is challenging a “white protestant culture” by flipping the political landscape to favor Democrats. To fight this, Kobach’s plan has been to rescind voting rights from those who favor immigration (minorities and immigrants who are most likely to vote for Democrats), and use that power to limit immigration and the “infiltration” of foreign ideas into America.

In other words, Kobach wants to artificially and retroactively protect Republican pluralities by literally keeping those who disagree with him from voting. And states refused to hand this information over for good reason – there is very scant evidence that voter fraud is an issue, while there is simultaneously an overwhelming amount of evidence that Kobach plans to restrict voting rights for some of our most marginalized and most vulnerable citizens. Imagine feeling so insecure in your vision for America that instead of convincing voters that it’s the correct path forward – you seek to keep them from voting at all.

At best this voter fraud panel serves to boost Trump’s ego, and at worst it is an attack on the foundation of our democracy itself.


Let us not forget the foundations of freedom on this July 4th. And let us not forget the need to defend them. As people say, freedom isn’t free.

When taking the Oath of Enlistment into the Army, our soldiers vow to protect our country from all enemies – foreign and domestic. Sadly, right now the most looming threat against the Constitution is domestic. Leaders we trust to defend the Constitution are doing everything in their power to undermine some of our most basic rights enshrined within it. From undermining the free press, to painting peaceful resistance and political disagreement as something we need to arm ourselves against, to taking away the right to vote from the people who are most marginalized – there is an organized campaign against the foundations of democracy that our Founding Fathers established to protect us from tyranny.

Let’s not only hope we won’t some day have to explain to our grandchildren what it was like to be free in America – let’s take action to keep it from happening.

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The country is potentially in a very dangerous situation

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Jared Kushner, Senior Advisor to President Donald J. Trump, sits in on a meeting with Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, at the Ministry of Defense in Baghdad, Iraq, April 3, 2017. ([Department of Defense] Photo by Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Dominique A. Pineiro). Accessed via flickr.com.
The story of Jared Kushner’s attempt to open a back channel of communication with the Kremlin is the first glimpse the public has into the possibility of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin (which the FBI has been investigating for a year now).

Given that there is a possibility of illegal activity here, let’s explore a few scenarios of how Trump could leave office in the coming years:

  1. He loses a re-election bid
  2. He is impeached and removed from office forcefully
  3. He completes two full terms

In all but situation 3, we may have a problem here. Given that Trump has praised foreign dictators for being “strong leaders” by instituting martial law, killing their own citizens by the thousands, destroying checks and balances with questionable power grabs, and the like – we know that Trump does not believe in democracy. And since he does not believe in democracy, we can’t be sure that he believes in the peaceful transition of power.

Can you foresee a situation where Trump has to leave office against his own will? Will he gracefully step down if he loses his re-election or, especially, if he’s impeached? Or will we have a constitutional crisis on our hands?

Democracy is inherently fragile, and is only as strong as the integrity of those willing to defend it.

Let’s just imagine in our heads a situation where Donald Trump loses his re-election to a Democrat in 2020. Given how 2016 went, we know the campaign is probably going to be a long, ugly, a demoralizing bloodbath between him and whoever runs in opposition. Trump may even label his opponent as a danger to the country, painting a scary and dangerous picture for voters of the ugly possibilities of what may happen to America if we allow this opponent to take office. We may have sweeping breaches of voting rights by 2020, given that the Republican party as a whole has shown little interest in protecting them. Trump may call the results rigged, or illegitimate; he may use everything in his power to throw mud into the gears of what has always been a peaceful transfer of power in this country. And using “everything in his power” – he’s the president of the United States. He has a lot of power.

But this isn’t even the scariest possibility. Let’s say the FBI, or leaks to the press, or any of the other investigations into his campaign uncover something illegal and impeachable. What if Trump calls it all illegitimate, as he’s already done so far? What if Congress strips him of his power and he says “no?” Trump for the most part controls the military and the police. Using that power to hold onto the presidency might sound like a far fetched scenario, but democracy is inherently fragile, and is only as strong as the integrity of those willing to defend it. As I said, we know Trump isn’t interested in defending democracy; from the looks of things he is only willing to defend himself. And remember that this country has gone to civil war in the past.

Those hoping that Trump will be impeached don’t account for the fact that this country will be in crisis if it comes to that. Even if Trump was successfully removed from power against his will, the extreme partisan divisions that exist right now could very well turn into deep trenches. Our people could turn on one another in ways we haven’t yet thought possible – those who support Trump and those who support his impeachment. Even now, more Republican voters trust Putin, possibly more than they trust Democrats. To think we would be able to pick up the pieces, unite as a country, and go back to normal in a situation like this is a long shot. If it came to that, there would be significant harm done to this country’s institutions, one way or another.

Even at this moment, Trump is using a very familiar playbook. Evan McMullin, who ran for president as a conservative independent in 2016, had this to say about it: “Accelerating investigations place the Trump administration in a familiar authoritarian quandary. Remaining in power subjects them to increasingly compromising scrutiny while offering the best protection from its consequences. So they become evermore willing to take extraordinary, illegal steps to hold onto power as a matter of self-preservation. It remains to be seen what form this will take in the case of the Trump administration.”

Let’s hope that if it comes to this, there are enough Americans left to put the country before party loyalty. But at the moment, in our current hyper-partisan political climate, I’m not convinced that’s the case.

The Rise of American Authoritarianism

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Steve Bannon, White House Chief Strategist, source: Time Magazine

Think of your average super villain. Dr. Doom, Lex Luthor, Magneto, Loki, Darth Vader. Typically they share a common motivation: autocratic power. They are villains in our stories because they don’t believe in liberty and democracy, and instead try to “take over the world” and consolidate global power under their own rule.

Before I lose you because you think I’m going to call Donald Trump or Steve Bannon a comic book villain, I’m not. But there’s a very good reason this type of power is considered villainy in our culture. Modern democratic societies, since their inception in the 18th century enlightenment and the American Revolution, have for the most part shattered all other power structures in a very short period of time and spread like wildfire throughout the world. Critics will tell you that democracy is not morally superior to other forms of government (democracy is just as capable of genocide as fascism), but it is a superior power dynamic due to its most critical aspect – peaceful transition of power, which allows for a new party or movement to take power of the government without revolution or civil war.

There is a growing movement in our country and around the world right now that is opposed to democracy. There is a body of authoritarian movements – movements with a unifying theme of placing a strongman in power who will “set us straight again” and ignore or outright defy the systems meant to check his power – that are not just gathering momentum, but have already steamrolled their way into our government. The rest of us who believe in the tenets of representative democracy, in checks and balances and equal branches of government, in civil and inalienable rights, have been behind the 8 ball because we have not taken this seriously enough.

This might sound like hyperbole, but if you don’t believe me, look into neoreaction. Abbreviated “NRx,” neoreaction teaches that democracy is inefficient, ineffective, and has outlasted its welcome on Earth. They believe that this system must be replaced by a power structure based on autocracy, with power held in a single leader, and with clear ownership and chains of command. They believe the government must be run much like a private company, where the owner or CEO makes decisions independent of any other bodies, that are then executed unquestioned by his staff.

This might just sound like a bunch of edgy teenagers on the internet just beginning to develop their politics… that is, until you take a look at the White House inner circle. Particularly Steve Bannon, the former Breitbart editor, now White House Chief Strategist, who has inserted himself into the National Security Council and inserted his worldview into government policy. Bannon is reportedly a reader of neoreactionary thought, and his former outlet Breitbart is considered “alt-right.” We’ve all heard of the alt-right by now, which is a loose far right political ideology that questions or rejects egalitarianism, and roughly believes that all races, genders, and national identities have the right to compete independently for dominance in society.

We can’t be 100% certain what Bannon’s worldview is, but we can deduce. And being a key adviser in the Trump Administration, we can see that play out in the anti-democratic hands all over their policy and political strategy. Any entity that acts as a check on the power of the Executive Branch is treated as an enemy – the press, the courts, the popular vote, the opposition party, facts. We can argue all day whether or not the President truly believes in this, or whether he “gets it,” but it is clear that the people surrounding him do. And they’re not stupid.

This administration is quickly showing one of the following to be true: it either doesn’t know about the tenets of democracy, it doesn’t care, or it is actively opposed to it. And unfortunately, the most likely explanation so far seems that they are actively opposed. Anybody who is hoping for change through the traditional democratic means – voting, elections, free expression and assembly, petitioning their government – should have their eyelids shooting open. There is a powerful threat to democracy right now, one that usurped immense power before our very eyes, and we need to catch up. This is not a joke.

If you believe that your positions are right and true, that they truly benefit the most people on Earth, then why be opposed to democracy? Democracy has proven itself to allow for change in government philosophy, over time – through dialog and critical thought, through spreading your ideas and getting as many people as possible on board with your version of change. Democracy allows for the strongest ideas to filter to the top. If your philosophy is strong, if it can survive the tests and strains put on it by questioning and political challenge, then it can cause change in government rather easily compared to other power structures.

There is only one reason that you would be against democracy, and that is to force your worldview onto everybody else, regardless of whether it hurts them or not. Authoritarianism does not account for the minority, for the marginalized, for the smallest voices in our society to have their issues recognized and attended to. It does not account for issues that affect groups large enough to assemble and petition their government. Most of all, it does not account for the ability of a country’s people to cause change, because throughout history the only way change occurs in these autocratic societies is through bloodshed and war. And that is where anti-democratic thought fails.

However, the anti-democracy movement itself will not fail unless it is resisted, powerfully. The traditional means of petitioning our government have not failed yet. The checks on the Executive Branch have flexed their muscle – namely the courts and the press. Congress is under immense pressure from their constituents to investigate ties to foreign dictators (though they are also under immense pressure to pass conservative legislation, which is holding them back from doing so).

The first step to fixing a problem is acceptance. We have not yet accepted, collectively, that this is no longer a fringe meme constrained to internet forums. We must collectively accept that we not only have an anti-democracy problem in this country, but that this movement has infiltrated our government like never before. Regardless of how you feel about Donald Trump, please recognize that at the very least, the people around him and in his ear are pushing him to authoritarian, autocratic tendencies. The resistance to this is not just “the corrupt establishment fighting back against the man of the people,” or the Democrats whining about their election loss. Many were willing to work with Trump on areas where their beliefs coincide. Instead, the resistance is to these authoritarian tendencies that threaten to undermine our democracy. These are dangerous precedents to set, and in a lot of ways the damage has already been done. Going forward it is up to us to collectively, and firmly, say “no.”


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