SILENCING LIBERTY

Liberty Bell - Pixabay - liberty-bell-3652938_960_720

“Its most famous tolling, however, was on July 8, 1776, when it summoned Philadelphia citizens for the first reading of the Declaration of Independence.” ~ Liberty Bell tolls to announce Declaration of Independence, history.com

The Liberty Bell cracked beyond repair on February 23, 1846.~ National Park Service

“A lady asked Dr. Franklin Well Doctor what have we got a republic or a monarchy. ‘A republic,’ replied the Doctor if you can keep it.’ ‘And why not keep it?’ ‘Because the people, on tasting the dish, are always disposed to eat more of it than does them good.'” ~Attributed to the writings of James McHenry, a Maryland delegate to the Constitutional Convention.

“Sure, we’ve experienced bouts of intense social strife since the American Civil War of 1861. I grew up with the assassination of Martin Luther King and raging street battles over civil rights and Vietnam. And yet this moment feels worse — much less violent, blessedly, but much more broadly divisive.” ~ Thomas L. Friedman, Journalist and multiple Pulitzer Prize winner.

The Liberty Bell no longer rings. It is said to have rung to celebrate the Declaration of Independence, but according to some legends surrounding this famous bell, it was cracked more than once, and finally beyond repair. Today it hangs, silent (to preserve it) and still cracked in Independence Hall in Philadelphia. But yet it is revered as an enduring symbol of our liberty. 

Right now, our nation is cracked. But even if it were possible simply to recast and repair it, it might still be left with cracks. Perhaps living with a crack or two merely indicates that while we are constantly trying to form a more perfect union, perfection is not possible. But equality and the entitlement to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness should be possible for all Americans and anyone who lives in our land, because that has always been the promise of America. Tragically, that promise has taken far too long to kept for everyone. And just as the 19th century Civil War was grounded in racial injustice so our 21st century-style civil war rages on, again because of ongoing racial injustice.

If that weren’t enough to cope with, the horror of the pandemic descended like a grim shadow across our country and the world, bringing with it losses of all kinds, and again exposed the cracks in our society.   

It is against this tumultuous social landscape that millions of Americans are looking forward to this Fourth of July as a double celebration: First, of course, to mark the birth of our nation and, second, to embrace with rejoicing and gratitude the apparent winding down of the pandemic that has ravaged our nation and the world. The latter we have faced first-hand and understand its impact; but the former we have often taken for granted. However, we should have learned from recent events that we cannot take our liberty for granted, or like the Liberty Bell it could fall silent.

It is understandable that celebrating our renewed freedoms might eclipse those pre-pandemic problems with which we were grappling. But from where I sit, I do not believe we should be wholly distracted by our joy at making our way back to normalcy while those threats rage on. I have been sleeping with one eye open for too long to relax now!

I worry about the forces afoot that could upend our lives in an even more devastating and lasting way. And by that I mean the alarming and brutal manner in which extremists both in society at large and among our elected officials continue to turn voting norms and long-held practices upside down to ensure that one major political party has an insurmountable advantage over the other major political party. Should those efforts succeed, the United States of America will not be the same in the future as it is at this moment. And should that happen, we will have failed to meet Benjamin Franklin’s challenge to keep our republic

What’s Going On?

For one thing, Yale Historian Professor David Blight describes in a New Yorker article situations that could prompt another civil war: “We know we are at risk of civil war, or something like it, when an election, an enactment, an event, an action by government or people in high places, becomes utterly unacceptable to a party, a large group, a significant constituency.” Journalist and multiple Pulitzer-prize winner Thomas L. Friedman believes we are already in a civil war of sorts. On the other hand, Civil War expert Jason Phillips believes we should stop worrying about a second American Civil War, according to a 2018 Washington Post article.

For another, renowned Russian-American author Masha Gessen (Surviving Autocracy) has said, “Democracy is a dream. It’s the dream of the government of the governed. We will never be able to create a perfect government of the governed. But at any given time, we’re enfranchising more people, making our government more a government of the governed, or we’re going in the opposite direction. And I think if you think of it that way, the answer becomes suddenly very painfully clear. We’re going in the opposite direction. We’re enfranchising fewer people with every passing month.”

So, in the words of Marvin Gaye a half-century ago, let’s take another look at “what’s going on.”

Attacks on the 2020 Election

The former President blatantly advocated for autocratic polices. After his defeat last November, he — along with his followers, extremist groups, white nationalists, conspiracy theorists and one mainstream news network — have been spreading disinformation about the election: that the former President was actually reelected in a landslide, but that there was widespread voter fraud that stole the election from him — collectively, all of this has come to be known as “The Big Lie.” (The Führer of the Third Reich reportedly used what was coined as the “Big Lie” to prompt the Holocaust).

Even before the election, the sitting President claimed that if he lost it would be because the election was “rigged”; he actually has claimed such fraud in previous years whenever he did not like the outcome of any election. Subsequently, he, his campaign and his allies filed more than 50 lawsuits that claimed various state elections were fraudulent. All were dismissed by the courts. 

Yet, individuals and groups still push this falsehood. Just look what has been happening in Arizona, with the specious “fraudit,” as the Arizona secretary of state termed it. In another unprecedented move, that State’s Senate hired a little known firm with no experience with election audits — but who believed that the former President won Arizona (he didn’t) to conduct yet another audit of Arizona’s Maricopa County 2020 ballots. This exercise apparently has no goal except to undermine further voter confidence in our elections. And in another troubling move, the Arizona State Legislature stripped the Secretary of State of that position’s traditional election authority. This process, like another kind of virus, is spreading to other so-called battleground states that came through in favor of the current sitting President in the 2020 election. It appears to be yet another effort to manipulate future elections in favor of the party that is currently out of power on the national level, but very much in power in many states.    

Voter Suppression

To take the Big Lie further, states such Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Kansas and more have passed restrictive election laws that will make it more difficult for many voters to exercise their Constitutional right to elect their government representatives at any level. The laws variously limit days and hours people can vote; reduce or eliminate mail-in voting, polling sites or drop-in ballot boxes; revoke some secretaries of state’s election authority and instead turning it over to the state’s legislature; restrict early voting in some communities and expand it in others; and so on. In an especially egregious move, Georgia’s new law infamously makes it illegal to offer voters waiting in long lines food or water, and bans previously allowed mobile polling vehicles to go to churches, libraries and parks to alleviate long waits at stationery polling places and include more voters! And just yesterday, the Supreme Court upheld two of Arizona’s voter restrictions that will negatively impact African, Latino and Native American voters, the second time the Supreme Court has voted to weaken the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in less than a decade. 

January 6

In January 6, 2021, for the first time in the American history, our Capitol Building was breached and trashed by an angry mob of supporters of — and urged on by — the sitting President who had lost the 2020 election. The rioters were determined to overturn that election by blocking Congress from certifying the election to keep the losing President in power. Had that effort succeeded, it would have been a coup d’é·tat. Up to that time, such an occurrence would have been thought to be impossible in the United States. The horror escalated as the mob began calling and chanting names, indicating that it meant grave harm and even death to the elected officials inside the Capitol who were performing their Constitutional duties as officials elected to represent the people of the United States. 

Although most Americans were shocked, our nation and the world have witnessed over the past five or so years the rise of a man with autocratic tendencies that has left in his wake numerous weakened American institutions. Such actions culminated in his losing the 2020 election and his second term of office. To continue his disdain of America and the U.S. Constitution, however, he refused to concede defeat and facilitate the traditional peaceful transfer of power to the President-elect. He and his close and well-connected inner circle fomented the deplorable false story that the entire election has been rigged, culminating in the January 6 insurrection that left many rioters and police injured and some dead. A number of rioters have been identified and indicted. But because the Senate blocked any discussion of a bipartisan commission to investigate the insurrection, the House of Representatives will create a select committee to conduct the investigation.

It is, however, encouraging and inspiring that despite the terror that they had just endured, our elected officials were determined to fulfill their Constitutional duty. They returned to the chamber and finished certifying the 2020 Presidential election and, thereby confirming the new incoming Administration. I am grateful for that. 

This outrageous, contemptuous and vicious attack on our government from enemies without our own country cannot be dismissed. I urge ever American, regardless of one’s political persuasion, to take a look at the New York Times’ 40-minute video compilation of the January 6 attempted coup

Disinformation and Blatant Untruths

With our 24/7 news/fake-news flow, it’s pretty easy to spread misinformation and blatant untruths. A sampling of the nuttier ones going around includes:

  • Certain elected officials are running child sex rings and performing satanic rituals. (“pizzagate” 2?)
  • Pregnant women who get close to someone who has been COVID-19 vaxxed could miscarry as a result.
  • Voting machines used in U.S. elections were supplied by a Venezuelan company that created said machines to steal the election for Hugo Chavez.
  • The above company programmed its voting machines to flip votes, i.e., if you voted for one 2020 Presidential candidate the machine flipped the vote to the other candidate and vice versa.
  • Antifa really incited the January 6 “riot.” 
  • The COVID-19 vaccine is a government plot to insert tracking microchips! (Good grief.)

Some disinformation is so off-the-wall that reasonable people can pick it out and discard it. And some of the wackiness would be hilarious if the consequences weren’t so dangerous. Other distortions are more subtle;  if people are paying attention and demanding actual facts, such untruths can cause terrible damage.

It’s hard not to listen to folks that you like and admire, but it is important to think for yourself and consider carefully what they are saying. Blindly following someone down a rabbit hole is not sensible, and I advise not to do it. Two people that I previously admired have taken stances that I oppose, an environmentalist and champion of the poor and underdog and prominent doctor and best-selling author. I’m disappointed, of course, but have no problem with rejecting their views! 

In our current environment, these various streams of misinformation, disinformation, distortions and outright falsehoods can contribute to the chipping away at our democracy and freedoms by steering a large number of Americans in the wrong direction.  

Let Liberty Ring!

In the face of this unprecedented assault on democracy, how do we manage to hold on to our republic, American democracy and the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? How do we ensure that those values and freedoms that our forebears and subsequent Americans fought and died for so we could live in a free society endure?

You and I can prevent the loss of our liberty and keep our republic going on so that future generations can learn from our mistakes and avoid repeating them. How do we do that? Well, I’ve blogged on the subject until my complexion is  becoming tinged with blue (which is not becoming by the way). We the People are still in charge! But unless we fulfill our civic responsibility — which primarily requires voting for candidates who we trust with preserving our union rather than tearing it apart — we stand to lose the liberty we hold so dear, and which we often take for granted.

If, like me, you’ve been voting all your adult life, keep on rolling. For those who have never voted, or only vote occasionally, start voting and don’t look back. Not just every four years in the Presidential elections, but in every single election that occurs in any given year on the federal, state and local levels (including school boards!). Chances are, there’s an election coming up in your area this year. Regardless of your party, political persuasion or background, be sure to vote. Unlike 160 years ago during that other time we had a great division in our country called the Civil War (1861-1865), today there is no need to take up arms. There is only the need to pick up a ballot.   

As voters, you should also contact your elected officials and voice your opinions and demands, from the POTUS and your U.S. senators and representative to your state and local officials. It’s also helpful to write letters to the editor and comment on social media, expressed with thoughtfulness, confidence, accuracy and good taste and judgment. 

Please know that I want you all to have a Happy Fourth. Celebrate with your family, friends, neighbors and colleagues. Hug, dance, eat, laugh — and did I say hug!? — with all the exhilaration that’s been bottled up the past year-plus. Have a ball! I intend to!

But on the Fifth of July, we need to roll up our sleeves and seriously take on the task of ensuring that while the Liberty Bell no longer rings, liberty itself will ring louder than ever — not for just some, but for everyone. Then we can look forward to again celebrating our independence next Fourth of July, and forever after.

Until next time,

Jeanne

Past (happier) Fourth of July Posts:

Summer Vacation Etiquette – Part 4: Fourth of July Barbecue, Happy Fourth, Fifth and Beyond

2 thoughts on “SILENCING LIBERTY

  1. bjkramen says:

    Bless you, Jeanne. I know that democracy will win. I worry about what price we have to pay.

    We re-watched the movie CRASH last night from 2005. It is about racism in LA. It won Best Picture that year. Wow. It could come out today and win again.

    Thank you for caring so deeply.

    Wishing you a peaceful weekend,

    Bonnie

    Like

    • Jeanne Nelson says:

      I agree, Bonnie. And thanks for the reminder about CRASH; I will find time to re-watch it as well! And thank you for all your efforts to counter bullying in the workplace. Over my long corporate career, I witnessed so much bullying, including that which was racially motivated. We have so much to do, and I am comforted that you are leading the way on so many fronts.

      Like

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