Op-ed: Freedom’s downward slide

Well, here we are again. It’s been 242 years since our founders took a huge personal chance and signed the Declaration of Independence:

 

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness …” Yada, yada, yada …

Yes, I am being flip about a document that was flawed from the git-go. In our root-for-the-home-team jingoism, we tend to gloss over the fact that the signers were slaveholders and that it was only white guys and not women who had all the “unalienable rights.” In modern times, that would be described as “Make America Great Again.”

Even so, a few years later some pretty smart guys put together an operating manual that described the rights and restraints of a democracy that looked pretty good on paper. However, their careful balance between government power and limitation is inherently fragile, always vulnerable to the abuse of demagogues and other opportunists.

And so, 242 years after fighting to become a nation at all and then surviving more than two centuries of battle against threats both external and internal, including a civil war, we are in danger once again of frittering it all away. Unlike the North-South struggle over slavery, which resulted in the deaths of 620,000 combatants and is still unsettled to the extent that poisonous racism lingers, and bigots continue to celebrate the Confederacy, the present-day deterioration of our country is more gradual and even more insidious. In addition to the persistent prejudice and other forms of inequality, we sadly witness the constant deceit and rabble-rousing that erode the trust necessary to maintain a credible government. From our first president, George Washington, who was rumored to have said, “I cannot tell a lie,” we have President Donald Trump’s “I cannot tell the truth.”

By definition, a democracy, any democracy, depends on an ability to differ and work out those differences. But in a seriously corroded one, those disputes become blood feuds — literally blood. What, in the past, would have merely been an argument based on someone’s objections over what a news medium says about him, now festers until it becomes a reason for him to initiate a massacre against the paper. One explosion sets off another, as more and more frequently a disturbed individual unleashes his demons by slaughtering schoolchildren, or politicians, with guns that are nothing more than killing machines. By the way, I am not among those who believe that Trump’s anti-media invective directly inspired the shotgun-toting maniac to make his murderous attack on The Capital Gazette in Annapolis, but I do think that the Trumpster’s constant attacks as “enemies of the people” on any news organization or reporter who dares question him help create the poisonous atmosphere that is choking our essential freedom to be informed.

Profit and power are the dominant motivations in modern times; unselfish public service is for suckers. Getting elected is the be-all, end-all for the candidates who run for office, until they have accumulated enough chits from their favors to the corporations they’ve protected to semiretire to the much greener pastures of the private sector.

While in office, they become completely beholden to those who cleared out the obstacles for them. As we’ve discovered, that can include foreign government interference. Donald Trump can deny all he wants that Russia’s Vladimir Putin didn’t grease the skids to the White House for him, but there is overwhelming evidence that is exactly what happened. He’s meeting with his BFF Vlad in the middle of the month. Maybe he’s getting his periodic HR review from his boss. That’s facetious, folks. I think it is, anyway.

Trump admires Putin, and holds in awe the way he throttles dissent. It’s truly autocrat envy. But President Donald Trump is nothing more than a symptom of our national illness, not the cause. The cause is our apathy. Our democracy cannot be sustained with such laziness and our broken promises much longer.

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