Last month in New Lisbon, Wisconsin a retired judge was shot and killed at his home by a gunman with a list targeting several judicial members, along with the governor of Michigan. In June, Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh was threatened by an armed man outside his home. The far-right groups that stormed the U.S. Capitol in 2021 are another serious reflection of a growing threat to democracy.
During the July 4th holiday period it is customary for people to take stock of how the nation was founded, and be reminded of the guiding principles of our country. While that occurred again this year there was a far more obvious conversation taking place which results from a deeply dismaying mood as the citizenry looks down the road. Given the growing details about the January 6th insurrection at the nation’s Capitol and the far-right lurch of the Supreme Court, once a body considered the objective arbiter for an anxious country, the public is on edge, questioning, and most uncertain regarding what events will follow.
Each chapter of our national story is unique, but with each one history proves a united front must develop and present itself for the best interests of the people. In June, we observed the 50th anniversary of the Watergate break-in. With some of that news coverage, we were reminded that Republican Senators Barry Goldwater, John Rhodes, and Hugh Scott told President Nixon that he would be impeached, convicted, and removed from office, and in so doing, while not asking Nixon to resign, painted a full picture of what would follow if he did not.
That important example from the past should be seen as what our nation now requires.
The citizenry is now reeling from a sweeping set of decisions that were ideologically ruled by the Court in the past two weeks. A decision relaxed gun laws in a nation that is brimming with roughly 390 million of them, another allowed religious schools that openly discriminate against gay and transgender students to be allowed state funding, and then the scorched-earth ruling that overturned a 50-year precedent that ended a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion.
While the Court was making numerous moves that ran counter to modern society and neglected to strive for working with a living Constitution, people were watching and reading more about the January 6th attack on democracy. The erratic and autocratic moves of Donald Trump are coming to light as the House Committee proceeds with hearings, providing more insight into his strong desire to head to the Capitol and join the violent throng he had incited.
This is a time, given the threats to democracy along with increasing political violence, as witnessed in New Lisbon, when the leadership class from both political parties should be united in a common cause and speak to the nation. There is a genuine need for comity and some mature guidance about how this nation moves forward. Together.
Instead of a much-needed national conversation, however, we are mired in a political mess where the base of the Republican Party is wedded to conspiracy theories, and their elected leaders are too timid to speak truthfully, for fear of retribution from within the GOP. Even when it was made known Trump knew his supporters were toting deadly weapons on January 6th, and still wanted to turn off the devices that would alert law enforcement of those guns and knives, there was an almost complete hush from Republicans over the grave threat such weapons posed.
Perhaps the boldest and most audacious outrage occurred when Trump pleaded, as we know from a 2020 audio recording, for Georgia’s Republican secretary of state to “find” him another 11,780 votes. Incredibly, almost no one on the Republican side of the aisle cared, objected, stood up, and said, “Enough!”
Recently, news reports from those close to Trump show that he is planning a run for the White House in 2024, and could announce his bid prior to this year’s mid-term elections. Even after all of the proven transgressions and absurd behavior exhibited by Trump, it is fair to say, based on polling, that between a third and half of Republicans would probably vote for him should his name appear on a ballot.
While it is assumed that there will be a strong competitive field for the GOP presidential primaries the question is if other contenders will mimic the boorish and dangerous behavior of Trump or elevate the conversation to what was considered the norm prior to 2015? At some point, it is imperative that the party re-establish guardrails on our political culture.
Why we need to have a citizenry rooted in facts, and our political class acting with maturity and reasonableness is based on the growing data that suggests violence based on partisan leanings is increasing. As I wrote at the start of this post a growing threat is gaining steam.
Six months ago it was reported a Washington Post-University of Maryland poll found about 1 in 3 Americans believe violence against the government can at times be justified. That is simply repugnant to anyone invested in the process of democracy.
That finding represented the largest share to feel that way since the question has been asked in various polls for more than two decades. The percentage of adults who say violence is justified is up, from 23 percent in 2015 and 16 percent in 2010 in polls by CBS News and the New York Times.
Who we are as Americans is as much a question as where we are heading as a nation. On the July 4th holiday we again consider what ideals we knew to have merit at the infancy of what would become America. The question now, however, is what we will do on July 5th to secure those ideals for a nation that is angry, fretful, and truly apprehensive.
What might Goldwater, Rhodes, and Scott do? And who will be the modern incarnation of them?