Evil Triumphs When Good Men Do Nothing
— Thomas Jefferson
The groans of division and discontent bellowing from America’s citizenry carries this disturbing message: Democracy, the ‘American Experiment’ that historians have touted for more than two centuries, is on death’s doorstep. Not only is the handwriting on the wall, it’s on the radio, television, social media and in our daily newspaper ad nauseam.
The 2016 presidential election of Donald Trump, combined with the 77 million votes he received while losing to Joe Biden in 2020, confirmed the existence of a much larger and more passionate anti-democracy base. Competency, fairness, character, decency be damned. The majority of Trump’s base has a single rallying point: white supremacy. The Republican Party, which philosophically has been leaning in an anti-America direction for more than a decade, now openly admits that it’s in tune with Trump’s base and determined to retake Congress and the White House using skullduggery if necessary. Many of our so-called ‘honorable’ leaders of the GOP continue to dishonor the positions they hold by clinging to the toxic views of the former president who has no clothes.
Since January, Republican legislators in nearly every state already have proposed or enacted more than 350 restrictive voting laws designed to deprive millions of Americans of color, especially Blacks, from voting in the 2022 mid-terms and 2024 presidential elections. While Trump occupied the White House, Sen. Mitch McConnell and Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the GOP’s top leaders and others, let Trump be Trump. In 2010, McConnell announced that his “No. 1 priority” was to limit Barack Obama, the nation’s first Black president, to one-term. McConnell also ignored a longtime political norm by not allowing Obama’s Supreme Court nominee (Merrick Garland) consideration before the Senate even though Obama had 11 more months to serve.
Moreover, McCarthy and most Republican Senators and House members cowered in fear when the Capitol was attacked on Jan. 6, 2021, and some, including McConnell and McCarthy, denounced the insurrectionists’ attack at the time. Within weeks, most had returned to the Trump nest. Can the pillars of our three-branch system of government (executive, legislative and judicial) stifle the GOP’s authoritarian tendencies in time? Will its leadership muster the courage to make ‘country-first’ decisions, not party-first or go-along to git-along capitulations? The Civil War (1861-65), a century and a half ago, ended slavery, but led to a series of go-along to get-along compromises, including an 1896 ‘Separate but Equal’ Supreme Court ruling that upheld the constitutionalism of racism but proved to be farcical.
In 2013, the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, gutted Section 5, a key part of the 1965 landmark Voting Rights Act that required states with a history of discriminatory voting practices to discuss any proposed changes in election rules and procedures with the Department of Justice. Thanks to that party line vote, Republican legislators in southern and other states are running amok in their effort to shrink the country’s list of non-white voters as quickly as possible.
John Lewis, the late Georgia Congressman and longtime voting rights activist, said the Court’s decision, “… stuck a dagger into the heart of the Voting Rights Act. These men never stood in unmovable lines (referring to the justices) in voter registration ques that never moved. They were never denied the right to participate in the democratic process. They were never beaten, jailed, run off their farms or fired from their jobs. No one they knew died simply trying to register to vote. They are not the victims of gerrymandering or contemporary unjust schemes to maneuver them out of their constitutional rights.”
In Virginia, Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin, promised voters that he would, in essence, stunt the intellectual growth of Virginia’s child population by forbidding what he calls ‘Critical Race Theory’ (CRT) in Virginia’s public schools. Youngkin, a Republican endorsed by Trump, says CRT “… teaches children to see everything through the lens of race … children that are called privileged and others that are victims, and it’s wrong. And it, in fact, forces our kids to compete against one another and steals their dreams.” In a Youngkin campaign ad, books by Black authors Toni Morrison and Ralph Ellison, were described as examples of CRT. Morrison’s book, Beloved, won the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for fiction; Ellison’s novel, Invisible Man, won the U.S. National Book Award in 1952 and is ranked 19th on the Modern Library’s list of the best English-language novels of the 20th century. Youngkin vowed to ban CRT on day one of his administration. “There’s no place for (it) in our school system,” he said. According to USA Today (Nov. 7), Youngkin needn’t bother with the ban; CRT is not part of any Virginia public schools (K-12) curriculum.
If Youngkin has his way, Morrison and Ellison’s books won’t be scrutinized in Virginia classrooms, and I suspect the words of James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, or W.E. B. DuBois’ The Souls of Black Folk wouldn’t qualify for robust debate there either. That’s too bad. Americans of every age and color should know the pain, physical and emotional, that Blacks endured during the Jim Crow era. Baldwin’s 1963 best-seller found a welcoming home in my mind when I was a junior at Hampton University in Hampton, Va. during the early phase of the Civil Rights movement. His words flushed out the racist obstacles constructed to stifle my development and steeled my resolve to ignore the roadblocks and to excel.
In a letter written to his nephew, James, but meant for all Blacks, Baldwin wrote: “You were not expected to aspire to excellence; you were expected to make peace with mediocrity. Please try to remember that what they do and cause you to endure, does not testify to your inferiority but to their inhumanity and fear. There is no basis whatever for their impertinent assumption that they must accept you. The really terrible thing is that you must accept them … and accept them with love. For these innocent people have no other hope.”
The hopelessness that Baldwin refers to is insightfully explained by Eric Hoffer, the late author and social philosopher. I’ve used his insightful journey into the racist mind in my published writings on two previous occasions. He says, “The most effective way to silence our guilty conscience is to convince ourselves and others that those we have sinned against are indeed depraved creatures, deserving every punishment, even extermination. We cannot pity those we have wronged, nor can we be indifferent toward them. We must hate or persecute them or else leave the door open to self-contempt.”
Those who still respect and believe in our rule-of-law democracy, move wearily toward the days when Congress and the Supreme Court decide its fate with their decisions regarding state legislators’ restrictive voting rights laws. Race, as it was during the Civil War, once again is the major issue. We, the people, mustn’t pussyfoot our concerns regarding the possibility of a Trump-like despot occupying the White House in 2024. Evil surely will triumph if democracy tumbles off death’s doorstep into the abyss.