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First, Save Democracy


For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.  (Paul, Ephesians 6:12, NRSV)

There are very many ways to interpret this especially foreboding passage from the New Testament.  For our time, I’d render it thusly:

For our struggle is not against the blood and flesh person of the current president of the United States, but against the dark spiritual force that he serves and represents.

Right after the 2016 election, the Yale historian of the Holocaust, Timothy Snyder, published “On Tyranny”, a concise, practical guide to resistance to the slide into authoritarianism that the new president represents.  In a recent interview, he renews his call to vigilance.  And he reminds us that if we put all our attention on the person of the president, we will fail to project a future in which democracy and truth prevail.  Yes, the current president must be removed from office by impeachment or by next year’s vote.  But Snyder asks, will we have removed the conditions that resulted in his presidency?  Ultimately, our crisis is not a person.  It is systemic.  It is structural.  And it is spiritual.

It feeds on the negative, destructive, insidious spiritual power of fear.

White men’s fear of losing economic, social, and political power to women and minorities.  Evangelical Christians’ and conservative Catholics’ fear of losing the “culture war” they’ve been waging for for decades, and slipping into public irrelevance.  Trumpublicans’ fear that since they keep losing the popular vote at a national level, now is their only chance to shape the country in their image – and their fear that primary voters will abandon them if they denounce a president they secretly despise.

Fear leads people to make rash choices.  It leads them to abandon decency and morality.  It leads them to flail and dissemble and do whatever they can to avoid the fate that frightens them.  We’re watching the politics of fear in the Congress today, as Trumpublicans in the impeachment hearings blast ridiculous conspiracy-theory flak into the air to confuse voters into thinking there is no such thing as objective fact and that all politicians lie and cheat, so what Trump says and does is no news and no big deal.

Fear leads to outrageous behavior.

Which is why those of us who stand for truth and democracy must model the courage that we want others to embrace, by sharing our positive vision.

The vision must start with the preservation and improvement of democracy itself.  The Trumpublicans are enacting disastrous and inhumane public policies.  But dreadful as these actions are, they pale in comparison to the damage that they are doing to the institutions that guarantee our freedom.  Without an intact democracy, we’ll have no system by which to correct these policies.

So we must make the distinction and keep it clearly before us.  Priority number one is to stop the current insidious erosion of our democracy, and lift up our positive vision of a stronger democracy that can resist the politics of fear that brought Trump and company into office in the first place.

We fearlessly envision public discourse and policy-making based on reality, and not on rumor, speculation, or conspiracy theories.  We will only follow media outlets that have a track record of verifying the information they disseminate, have a track record of accuracy, and publicly correct their errors.  We will seek out multiple reputable sources of information and pay attention to any inconsistencies in reporting that might suggest the need for our own further investigation.  And we’ll donate or subscribe to high-quality media outlets, so that they can afford to deploy investigative journalists.  We will take scientific consensus seriously, and be skeptical of any claim that goes against it – while understanding that science is a continuous, incomplete process.  We envision a democracy that seeks facts and acts on them – not on dogma, wishful thinking, nostalgia, or confabulation.

We fearlessly envision an enlivened civil society in which we re-commit ourselves to public life:  belonging to community organizations, showing up for public hearings, engaging in person with our neighbors about civic affairs, volunteering for and donating to non-profits, looking people in the eyes on the streets and saying hello, knocking on doors for political campaigns.  These institutions and actions form the foundations of our democracy.

We fearlessly envision a “more perfect Union” – a modernized, more democratic, and more representative democracy.  We envision direct election of the president by a majority of all American voters, eliminating or disempowering the antiquated Electoral College system.  We envision a nonpartisan process of creating legislative districts that make geographic sense, eliminating partisan gerrymandering.  We envision people-powered rather than money-powered election campaigns.  We envision election day as a holiday.  We envision voter registration, election scheduling, and polling places designed to ensure maximum participation by all segments of society.  We envision ranked-choice voting so that elections result in a fuller consensus of the will of the people, minimizing the risk of extremists taking office. We envision a new system of choosing Supreme Court justices and other judges that will result in a much less partisan outcome.

We fearlessly envision a democracy that is ruled by the majority of voters, but with respect for the minority.  We envision a justice system that respects precedent, an executive branch that submits to legislative oversight, and a legislative branch in which the majority is sufficiently checked by a Senate in which each state gets two votes, regardless of population: we envision the end of the 60-vote Senate filibuster rule.  We envision our people being free to worship or practice the faith of their choice, or no faith at all – without letting people impose their religious beliefs on others through discrimination.

We fearlessly envision our restored and revitalized democracy fearlessly and decisively acting on the critical challenges of our time:  taking immediate steps to reverse human-caused climate disaster, assuring that all Americans, regardless of income, have access to excellent and affordable health care, increasing economic opportunity and reducing corrosive income inequality, re-enacting and extending environmental protections, and many other tasks.

Impeachment is an unfortunate necessity.  Campaigning hard for new leaders is essential.  But unless we contend with the spiritual force of fear, overwhelming it with courageous vision for the kind of country we want to create, we will not prevent this current debacle from happening again.


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