These are crazy times. People have altered their daily routines to include frequent handwashing, sanitizing commonly used surfaces like doorknobs, faucet handles and light switches and many disinfect everything they buy or are given. They’ve eliminated or greatly reduced close contact with anyone outside their own homes and meet friends and family on screens instead of in person.
Millions of people have been laid off because of the coronavirus, and about half of them are in serious financial difficulty because many states’ programs that are supposed to distribute unemployment benefits are so bombarded with requests that they can’t keep up. In worst cases, people are being evicted from their homes and many wait hours to get free food because they have no money to buy their own.
Many people are working from home and are trying to juggle their work with the jobs of educating and caring for their children 24 hours a day. Those who are still working are concerned about their health and that of their loved ones. And there are deep divisions between those who want to open every business and those who stress caution in fear of a major increase in serious illnesses and death.
Meanwhile, when our attention is on the pandemic and the life changes we’re experiencing, the foundations of our democracy are, step by step, being quietly and deliberately dismantled by a president who cares only about himself, and by those who enable him for their own selfish purposes.
They’re following the same playbook that’s allowed authoritarians in other countries to gain unlimited powers by acting as if they’re the saviors who can bring prosperity to ordinary workers. But history proves that the opposite happens when they gain total power.
The steps they follow are simple. First, create divisions by using propaganda to blame the most vulnerable in the population, like immigrants or minorities, for what’s wrong with the country. Then, use propaganda to distribute misinformation on government-friendly media while demonizing the free press and silencing dissent. After that, get rid of anyone who attempts to expose corruption. And, to enable all that, pack the courts with judges and justices who are sympathetic with those in authority and who have benefited from the richest and most powerful among them. And, of course, skew election results by the practice of gerrymandering and various means of voter suppression. Once all those things are accomplished, a country can kiss democracy goodbye.
We’re almost there. We have a president who constantly attacks and demonizes the free press and labels anything he doesn’t want to hear as “fake news,” although he’s never given one example of it. He loves Fox News Channel because almost all of its hosts flatter him and refuse to air any information they don’t want their viewers to know.
He has consistently fired federal employees who have dared to expose corruption in his administration or questioned his words or actions. He’s packed the federal courts with yes-men and women who answer to and work exclusively for the rich and powerful. He’s approved massive tax cuts to those rich and powerful while he’s ignored the debts and deficits those cuts have created.
His enablers in Congress know what he’s doing and the harm it causes, but most of them go along because they don’t want to offend his base and lose their elections. In other words, being reelected is much more important to them than saving our democracy.
The only reason we haven’t lost it already is because the voters woke up in 2018, and gave Democrats a majority in the House of Representatives. That restored some balance and prevented the total takeover by a president who admits he envies authoritarians and the powers they have.
Americans know enough about history to realize that when those from either political extreme have all the power, the possibility of prosperity and freedom is destroyed. Total welfare states fail eventually, as do those countries in which authoritarians without compassion rule. Countries and their residents prosper when there’s a commonsense balance between workers’ rights and the rights of businesses to make a fair profit. They succeed when they are governed by capable leaders who have intelligence as well as compassion and who are willing to listen to all sides before making important decisions. They keep their democracies when their courts are fair and follow laws that are not biased against one side or the other.
And Americans know that the only way to protect our democracy is to vote for candidates with integrity who respect the needs of everyone and not just those with the most money and influence. In November, we have the power to do that. As always, it’s up to us.
Pat Nash has lived in the Baraboo area, off and on, for more than 35 years. Contact her at email@example.com.
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