UNITED STATES—This fable tells of a frog placed in tepid water which is slowly being brought to a boil. Since the change in temperature is so gradual, the frog does not realize the danger it is in, and will be cooked to death.
Is this the plight of nearly half of our nation? Are they slowly being stripped of their democracy at such a long drawn-out pace that they don’t yet realize the irreparable harm being done to their country? Democracy is not easy, and it’s not permanent unless we are vigilant in protecting it.
It’s understandable that they would not see it this way; after all, it has been a given on both sides of the aisle that our democracy is rock solid. However, take a look at the following and some of those who feel this way may begin to notice that the proverbial temperature has been rising without their awareness.
-When Trump repeatedly goes after our legitimate media as enemies of the state, undermining its ability to function as a crucial institution of a functioning democracy, and his supporters start chanting his mantra of hoax and fake news, the burner has been turned on without their awareness.
-When Trump silences his critics by intimidation, discrediting and slandering them, attacking those who fairly question his actions, threatening to lock up his opposition, encouraging his supporters to plead the Fifth, pardoning the guilty who supported him, the water is beginning to warm up. But nobody feels it yet.
-When Trump cozies up to tyrants and authoritarians like Putin and Erdogan and Kim Jong Un while denigrating, insulting and threatening our allies, the water is starting to feel like a warm sweater. Still, no one feels uncomfortable.
-When the president of our country castigates and works to delegitimize our own national security institutions such as the CIA and the State Department, thus endangering a functioning democracy if citizens are convinced their own government is working against them, insinuating in not-so-subtle terms that they are a secret society with an agenda to remove him from office, the feel of a parka and heavy woolens may begin to be noticed, but those in his corner simply turn on a fan and dismiss the slow but growing discomfort.
-When Trump talks of law and order but not when it involves his actions – even bragging that he could shoot someone and get away with it, when he declares himself above the law and says he can do anything he wants because he’s the president, which the constitution specifically states that no one – even the president – is above the law, those in the near-bubbling water just turn on the air conditioner, refusing to act to save themselves before it’s too late.
-When the president of our country uses back channels with other countries – such as Giuliani in Ukraine – going around state department protocols where no one in our government knows what they are talking about, the water is at a near boil but the sensation to the intense heat really isn’t as noticeable as it should be.
-When our commander in chief is acting more like the instigator in uprisings around the country, urging biker gangs and others to fight tough in a not-so-veiled signal for encouraging vigilantes to take to the streets, the fires around our country are red hot, about the same as the pot the Trump supporters are in, and yet . . .
-When Trump is on a mission to completely disable congressional authority to probe and question the administration, those in the pot must not know that this oversight is exactly what our Founders counted on to restrain overreach by any branch of government. Most baffling are those in congress who are allowing themselves to be emasculated and worse, those who voted for them who apparently seem pleased with their representatives’ abdication of the oath that was taken on their behalf. Still, as inexplicable as it seems, no one is leaving the pot.
-When the president installed William Barr as head of our Justice Department (our department, not the president’s) essentially now having his own personal attorney doing his bidding to protect his private interests over those of the rest of us, authorizing tear gas on peaceful protesters in Washington, an act with guaranteed protection in the first amendment of our constitution, this should have been a moment when those in the pot began to say, “Hey, wait a minute!”
-There are far too many more examples but this one, the post office debacle, should have been the boiling point where people either scrambled out of the pot as fast as they could, realizing that – now! – they either save themselves (and their democracy) or perish.
The hollowing out of our once healthy republic began slowly and then quickly accelerated to the point where the president actually boldly admitted that too many mail-in ballots would cost him the election. So he installed a big donor to head the post office, whose first actions involved the elimination of overtime, sorting machines and mailboxes in the most blatant display of literally ripping from us our right to vote. Now the water in the pot is boiling over, and if those of us who never climbed in can’t turn off the heat, it may very likely be the end of the United States as we knew it. That’s because if our voting rights are sabotaged, then democracy is in grave peril if voting is too.
It’s understandable if a lot of us were slow to realize the steady erosion of our democracy. It’s easier to just take each travesty Trump engages in and feel it’s not a big deal in and of itself. But at some point we have to come to grips with this new reality. We all need to mobilize and stop this increasingly rapid descent into authoritarian rule. We can change our opinions and our minds when mounting information gives us reason to do so.
If you supported Donald Trump in 2016 and are torn about what to do now in 2020, I’m reminded of Maya Angelou’s words that apply to all of us:
I did then what I knew to do. Now that I know better, I do better.