Very Small d Democracy

A nation of sheep will beget a government of wolves -Edward R. Murrow

Politicians and diapers must be changed often, and for the same reason -Mark Twain

 When they call the roll in the Senate, the Senators do not know whether to answer ‘Present’ or ‘Not Guilty -Theodore Roosevelt

There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right- Martin Luther King, Jr.

On this first entry of the year, on such a dreary day,  I have an overwhelming temptation to surrender my own better nature to the promotions of each successive news cycle exclaiming that the sunlight necessary for the photosynthetic growth of the Large D democracy tree we have grown to cherish,  withered branches and all, has been forever clouded .

It seems lately around here in the neighborhood of “the last best hope on earth”,  even as this blue- green orb draws us nearer to sunny days and a time when shouts of “Play Ball” will echo out on fields of dreams from sea to shining sea, that we may never again taste the fruited grains of our democracy. In 1776, the population of the eastern midsection of the continent, in a united declaration, tossed off the yoke of monarchy declaring to the world at large that their monarch “Has refused his assent to laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good”.  Much blood was shed, both then and for the next 244 years, abroad and at home in a continuous struggle to preserve the forces of liberty and notions of home rule. We have done this most assuredly by the strength of the ballot. This system has been more than imperfect, but always the ideal has been that the vote is sacrosanct. The vote is democracy itself. With a big D. It has evolved from an electorate of strictly white, male landowners to a place where at least in theory, an electorate of all citizens regardless of race, religion, gender or any other demographic may fully participate.

When I was young the legal voting age was 21, but in 1971 congress passed the 26th amendment to the constitution extending that right to eighteen-year-olds. The 15th amendment extended that same right regardless of “race, color, or previous condition of servitude” in 1870. Unfortunately, none of this applied to mothers, sisters, aunts or grandmothers who had to wait until 1920, when by virtue of the 19th amendment the same privilege was finally granted to women. Big D democracy has always been messy, it has not always been completely fair, but it has always been flexible.  The rule of law which has been fundamental to any progress we have made, is borne of our original and chief legal document,the Constitution, which implores us  “ to form a more perfect union.”  The language itself implies inherent  imperfection and asks us to exercise  constant diligence in the fulfillment of this noble ambition.  So, only through the will of an imperfect people with an ever-evolving notion of what our declaration for  “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” means can this purpose ever be achieved.

So, we have come to a time when the d in our democracy shrinks before our very eyes. To be clear, the forces maneuvering the handles of government in these times are less an “administration” than a criminal enterprise which someday may become the very standard by which RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) indictments are measured, but the degeneration of this democracy  did not start with them, even if much of  the orchestration was conducted by a consigliere, who ironically once made his bones working the other side of the track.

For every 15th amendment there have been numerous Jim Crow laws enacted. The 19th amendment will never be fully realized until there is an establishment of an Equal Rights Amendment  codifying a complete legal embrace of women in all ways including equal pay for equal work. The Emancipation Proclamation gave way to new and improved voter suppression laws. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 has been matched measure for measure by voter roll purges in certain states that are  evolving too quickly demographically for the comfort of their present overseers. For each state law enacted to protect those persecuted for who and how they love, as well as how they identify as human beings, there are still more lacking such protections. And there is still no overriding Federal protection. For every species protected by the Endangered Species Act there is a court challenge to protections for another one. Among the most vulnerable of these are polar bears, beluga whales and whooping cranes. The bald eagle, rescued from near extinction not too long ago, might want to consider wearing a toupee. But maybe I am getting off track here. After all animals don’t vote.

The person who rose to his office with 3 million less votes than his opponent in 2016 behaves as if his  ascension came by the grace of a god he insults daily with words and actions defying every notion inscribed on the stones  Mr. Moses himself  carried down from Mount Sinai. He is aided and abetted, as all successful criminals must be,  by sniveling court jesters who care not for the d in democracy or any of its other letters. To their forever shame they have engaged in the type of pretzel logic seen most often in first graders with hands caught in the proverbial cookie jar. They rationalize that his negation of our democracy by encouraging foreign interference was horrible but not worthy of conviction and ouster, just…because. They explain that his ejection  must be done through the process of election, ignoring the fact that his indictment was for attempting to rig the next election.  Then again, kings don’t stand for election. The stain of impeachment, we are told, would cause him to modulate his behavior. The very next day, at  a prayer breakfast, he viciously attacked his political enemies even after Arthur Brooks, the keynote speaker implored the faithful to  “love your enemies”. Apparently such stains can be bleached over by virtue of a startling absence of conscience.

Henry the VIII himself never had it so good. Never has a prosecution, forced to indict without benefit of witnesses or essential documents, presented such a clear-cut case worthy of conviction to any court anywhere. A wholesale perversion of  legal protections from an over expansive interpretation of “executive privilege” allowed a  man who once assailed staffers of his opponent for using their constitutional protections under the 5th amendment by saying “If you’re innocent, why are you taking the fifth?”, to shield himself with less legitimacy and stunning hypocrisy. Let us keep in mind also that in the course of this presumptive king’s divorce from his first wife he himself pleaded the 5th over 90 times. At least no heads were lost.

Over the course of 78 long minutes, 26 of which were filled with royal adulation and applause, the monarch of mayhem lied and adorned himself with praise on national TV in something that used to be known as the State of the Union speech. After what we witnessed this week I believe we will have to coin a new name for the proceedings, for during the course of this extravaganza we learned nothing of the state of this union. We learned plenty about what the man who would be king thought of himself and more to the point what his court jesters thought of him. Or at least what they want him to believe they think of him, leery as they are of the rhetorical guillotine routinely used for those who would upset the monarch.

I have no doubt that young Janiyah Davis is worthy of a scholarship, I also have no doubt that this gesture was the worst kind of political pandering. A singular offer paid for by a billionaire buddy and cabinet member who up until recently  challenged court ordered debt relief to students who had been misled and cheated, is what is supposed to pass for concern for black education. This same person has over the years held financial interests in a number of for-profit colleges, who are often the beneficiaries of the types of student loans the courts have ordered repaid. She also had an interest in a company under government contract to collect delinquent student loans. His referenced Education Freedom Scholarships and Opportunity Acts would not bring an iota of funding to bettering public education but would instead basically fund private and religious schools through dollar for dollar tax exemptions for donations made to scholarship granting organizations (SGO’s). The bill also exempts such schools receiving Federal dollars from adhering to federal civil rights laws.

His majesty indicated he would protect citizens with previously existing medical conditions. In reality, he has been directing his administration to tear down the ACA which makes possible such protections  in court action after court action ad nauseum, without offering any plan to replace it.

Of course, the propagandists who carry the royal water will continue to praise every slurred, mispronounced word that falls from the lips of their fearful leader. Shouts of “four more years” in the pavilion of our national legislative forum might seem inappropriate to most but in this WWE world of  body slam politics where carnival barkers pass for intellectuals and grifters are praised as astute businessmen, I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised.

It is difficult to find fault in the honoring of military heroes, especially when the notice is long overdue as it was with 100-year-old Brigadier General Charles McGee, one of the legendary Tuskegee Airmen. It is equally difficult to not find joy in the surprise return to family of Sgt. First Class Townsend Williams. These types of events are not uncommon traditionally during the State of the Union. They are not entirely inappropriate, especially when the speech  has as an added purpose an effort to unite the country. But judging from the rest of the evening’s proceedings it is difficult to put aside the feeling that unity had no place in this speech. It was rather another opportunity to cover himself in more faux glory.  He did not miss an opportunity to attack anyone, including but not limited to, Barack Obama, California, New York, and of course immigrants, on the red meat menu of his most rabid followers.

To that end the soiled sovereign awarded The Presidential Medal of Freedom to a man who has made a career out of  decrying the very idea of equality and freedom for a large segment of the citizenry. He has called women sluts, ridiculed MS sufferers, as well as African Americans, made fun of AIDS patients, promoted falsehoods about the nation’s first African American president and even derided the findings of the medical community regarding tobacco use, saying once “I would like a medal for smoking cigars”.

Putting aside the tragic irony of that remark, I was surprised by my initial reaction to his diagnosis prior to the State of the Union.  A younger me, I am sure would have eventually found empathy and maybe a little compassion for his situation, …eventually. I am sure that once upon a time my visceral response would have been less than kind. But, in the moment I heard the news, I had an epiphany. Instead, and surprisingly, I experienced immediate compassion and empathy.  I realized that despite the ugliness sweeping our nation and the utter disregard for the rule of law and civility that our leaders have seemingly normalized, despite our regression of compassion as a nation for those less fortunate than most of us, despite my own anger at the demonizing of every kind of “other” that the man who would be king might dispatch, despite all of that as well as all the damn rain we had this week, my own  best instincts had not only been saved but oddly, sharpened.

It is difficult, still, for me to conceive of this honor,  reserved for individuals who have elevated humanity, being bestowed on someone who has spent a career doing the opposite.  As a  conservative “spokesman,” abusive rhetoric, abject dishonesty, downright cruelty and blatant hypocrisy have been his tools. But the small victory I take here for myself is that my own spirit has conquered. Rush Limbaugh is just a man, with a mortal coil afflicted by the same maladies we all must face.  Perhaps, in the dungeon of his own soul, in this most mortal moment he will have his own epiphanies. Perhaps, with good fortune at his back he may appreciate that the resources available to him to fight his fight are not available to so many others, many of them his own listeners and supporters, because of narratives he himself has advocated through the power of his microphone. He could now dare to speak for them as well on this issue. Perhaps he will use his forum to promote unity and not further polarization.  I hope that he can elevate his spirit to that of those worthier of this honor who have proceeded him. I do not kid myself that this will actually happen. But I do have hope in change. Mitt Romney proved that there may be at least a pulse of a conscience still beating on one side of the aisle in the United States Senate.Perhaps also in those hamlets cloistered across the nation where dismay with the workings of government has too often morphed into distrust of other  human beings, more epiphanies may be realized. Perhaps the D of our democracy will rise in capitalization once again. With the first spring training game a mere two weeks away, hope springs eternal.

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