This past week began with this nation’s racial reckoning unfolding in Wisconsin, a key 2020 battleground state, following the shooting in August of Jacob Blake, a Black man shot by a white police officer. By week’s end, there were yet more explosive headlines, this time from The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, who dropped a bombshell on Washington when he published an article about Trump disparaging U.S. military service members, frequently referring to those killed or captured in the line of duty as “losers and suckers.” True to character, Trump denied making the statements, calling the report a hoax.
But since the article’s release, other major news organizations and independent reporters, including James LaPorta, a Marine Corps veteran and investigative reporter with the Associated Press, have confirmed Trump’s dismissive comments about POWs and slain soldiers. It remains to be seen, however, if this latest revelation about Trump will have any effect on his supporters or the election.
Now, with less than two months before the election and with a pandemic and economic crisis continuing to ravage the nation, Benjamin Franklin’s prophetic words that he spoke as he left the last session of the Constitutional Convention in early September 1787 haunt and ring true. When asked by a Philadelphia matron waiting outside, “Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” Franklin replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.”
And to date, 233 years later, we have kept it. The United States is the oldest nation-sized republic in modern history. Our bold experiment has replaced monarchical dynasties of Europe in the 19th century and defeated totalitarian dictatorships in Germany, Japan, Italy and the Soviet Union in the 20th century. The United States became the global formula for national success in the Western World.
Our republic has not been without challenges, however, having faced great risk during both the Civil War and Great Depression. Today, we are experiencing a third serious challenge, which has emerged in the persona of our first full-scale demagogue, Trump. Our Founders warned of such possibilities, though. They knew from their studies of Greek and Roman classics that republics were uniquely vulnerable to such demagogues because they were dependent on popular opinion, which is easily manipulated by fearmongers brandishing conspiracy theories that have wide appeal to the uneducated.
These past four years we have witnessed Trump challenge this nation’s founding principles in all areas of governance. Congress, led by the Republication Senate, has abdicated its constitutional obligation to check executive power. The Justice Department, led by Trump shill William Barr, has shirked its duty to enforce the law fairly and equally. Unqualified sycophants have been appointed to the federal judiciary and misinformation and lies have replaced facts and truth as the acceptable norm for all members of the executive branch. And Trump himself has consistently maintained that he is above the law of this land.
Franklin must be rolling over in his grave, for all these are major deviations from and threats to the founding principles and values for which this nation stands.
But we still have a chance to change course. These changes only become fatal if and when they become institutionalized, and that can only occur if Trump is re-elected in November–an election that he has already said he will contest and possibly not accept. Our country, our American Republic, begins to die for real at that time.
We must ensure that Trump departs as a one-term president, for while the damage he has inflicted is considerable, it is still reparable. We must also ensure that all the reforms necessary to avert the election of future demagogues are put into place.
This is why the coming election in November is the most important political event of our lifetime. This isn’t an election about personalities or the pandemic or the economy or even Black Lives matter, although they are all important and on the ballot. This election will reshape our nation’s direction for generations to come and decide whether we wish to remain the American Republic…one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
JOIN Barb and John as they discuss An Election Like No Other.
Ken Goldstein comments (rebroadcast), Journalism in America
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