By Michael P. Riccards
The United States has had some great men as presidents, ones who have saved the union and also western democracy.
And it has had some mediocre ones who were unable to face the challenges of office.
But it has not had before a president who has been corrupt, venial and even evil. Unfortunately, that experience has given us an incumbent personality. What is most remarkable is that this individual has helped to lead to a major constitutional crisis and to acts of sedition directed toward the very government he was supposed to have sworn to protect.
The Founding Fathers did contemplate such abuse of power, for they, unlike us, were astute students of history. They created all sorts of checks and balances, some of which did kick in during the last four years. But the only safeguard for a democracy is the people themselves. One newsman has called the war generation the greatest generation. Unfortunately, their sons and daughters are snivelers and self-seekers.
One must step back and see why we have seen the events of January 6 last year, and we have to see what is the basis for such continuing craziness. The underlying fact is large numbers of people are unhappy, with themselves, their state in life and their role in representative government.
And what is frightening is that such disillusionment with democracy is being felt not just in the USA but in many of the western democracies. We are all fearful of immigrants; we are concerned that our values are being upset, that our places are being taken by people who don’t speak English or have skins a shade or two darker. We must stop South Americans; the Italians stop Libyans; the French stop Algerians; the British pull out of a united Europe; the Hungarians and Poles fear everybody. These are the real enemies — the forsaken “other.”
We have always had a paranoid streak, but rarely in recent times have our demagogues been so in ascendancy. We must learn that our hatreds do not build societies; our attacks on institutions of moderation do not lead to a sane society; our western religions should not lead to anti-Jesus theology.
Whole states in our union are controlled by politicians who have used these anti-humanist appeals to even make the COVID crisis worse. The advent of social media has betrayed the idea of universal enlightenment. Instead, it is a billboard for our hatreds, slanders and debasement of the popular sentiments.
The Murdoch chain has done more than any other group to attack the decencies of the English-speaking peoples in the USA, Great Britain and Australia. The level of dialogue or of reporting is rather disgraceful. And so is much of the social media.
I usually oppose censorship, but we may soon face a choice between protecting our feeble republican traditions or curtailing free expression of thought. We can’t simply have a knee-jerk reaction anymore.
Perhaps we need to abandon the Sullivan decision and allow more use of anti-slander and anti-libel laws. And we probably need to end lifetime tenure for judges who are nothing more than politicians in black robes.
I have generally supported the use of the filibuster in the Senate as a moderating influence on our politics, but it is being used to stymie social progress and also curtail the franchise. The difficulty in respecting majoritarianism is that so many of us have no respect for the Bill of Rights and for individual liberties, including so many judges.
We can’t save democracy if we ourselves are its enemy. January 6 should be a day when we respect our most decent traditions.
Michael P. Riccards, a former college president. is the author of 30 books, including a two-volume history of the presidency, The Ferocious Engine of Democracy, and the recently published Woodrow Wilson as Commander-in-Chief.