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.
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.
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.
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.