Can America save itself? - opinion

“We the people are the rightful masters of both Congress and the courts, not to overthrow the Constitution but to overthrow the men who pervert the Constitution,” Lincoln is famously quoted.

AN EXPLOSION caused by a police munition is seen as supporters of then-US president Donald Trump riot in front of the Capitol Building, January 6, 2021. (photo credit: LEAH MILLIS/REUTERS)
AN EXPLOSION caused by a police munition is seen as supporters of then-US president Donald Trump riot in front of the Capitol Building, January 6, 2021.
(photo credit: LEAH MILLIS/REUTERS)

The body politic of the United States of America caught pneumonia on January 6, 2021, and its condition has now deteriorated to the point where it is on life support.

The attempted insurrection 19 months ago seemed initially to be a wake-up call even to Republican legislators that the situation, if left unchecked, was potentially damaging to the very existence of democracy there.

Lindsey Graham, the Republican senator from South Carolina, a strong supporter of former US president Donald Trump, said the day after the insurrection: “Trump and I, we’ve had a hell of a journey. I hate it to end this way. Oh, my God, I hate it. From my point of view, he’s been a consequential president. But today, the first thing you’ll see, all I can say is count me out. Enough is enough.”

The senior Republican member of the House of Representatives, Kevin McCarthy, said on January 7: “I’ve had it with this guy.”

Today, of course, both of them as well as others are strong supporters of the former president.

Nineteen months later, in a round of Republican primary races over the past few weeks, the lessons of January 6 have seemed to be all but forgotten as, in state after state, people won races who support the lie that the 2020 election was stolen, that Trump was actually the winner, and that the results can still be reversed.

In Arizona, Michigan, Nevada and Pennsylvania, Republicans who have disputed the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election and who could affect the outcome of the next one have won races to represent the party in the midterm elections in November. They include governors, senators and even secretaries of states, who wield potential decisive control over how elections are conducted in their states.

 A mob of supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump fight with members of law enforcement at a door they broke open as they storm the US Capitol Building in Washington, US, January 6, 2021.  (credit: LEAH MILLIS/REUTERS) A mob of supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump fight with members of law enforcement at a door they broke open as they storm the US Capitol Building in Washington, US, January 6, 2021. (credit: LEAH MILLIS/REUTERS)

In a word, these newly minted Republican nominees for secretary of state and governor have taken positions that could threaten the nation’s traditions of nonpartisan elections administration, acceptance of election results and even the orderly transfers of power.

All of them have spread falsehoods about fraud and illegitimate ballots and endorsed the failed effort to override the 2020 results. In the case of Wisconsin, the Republican nominee there has even vowed, if elected in November, to invalidate the state’s 2020 electoral votes, a promise that cannot be kept without being in full violation of the law.

“If any one of these election deniers wins statewide office, that’s a five-alarm fire for our elections,” said Joanna Lydgate, the chief executive of States United Action, a bipartisan legal and democracy watchdog organization. “It could throw our elections into chaos. It could put our democracy at risk.”

Clearly, the lessons of January 6 have not been learned. As of January this year, at least 57 people who went to the rally, gathered on the Capitol steps or violently invaded that building, were campaigning for office around the country, according to Politico. At least three of them have been charged with crimes relating to the riot.

Does this hinder their campaigns? Not in the least. For example, Ryan Kelley, a Republican who unsuccessfully ran for governor of Michigan, told Politico, “As I travel around the state, I’m an insurrectionist to some people.” Nevertheless, he went on, “You know, to other people, it’s like, ‘That’s why I’m voting for you. Because you walk the walk and you were out there fighting for us.’”

In addition to all of this, the legislative branch of government finds it often impossible to pass legislation, because the Republicans do not seem to want to vote for anything that the Democrats bring to the floor. With a 50/50 split in the Senate and two Democratic senators who cannot always be counted on to vote yes on their party’s proposals, getting anything passed is a major challenge.

Even in the Congress, a recently passed piece of gun legislation could gather just 14 Republican votes, and that was just weeks after 19 children and two teachers were killed in the Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.

As if all of this does not give everyone sufficient pause, the Supreme Court of the United States is now another obstacle to the continuation of democracy there. The court, which for most of its years was the least controversial of the three branches of government and the most respected as well, now has a five-person conservative majority that seems intent on deciding for itself how the United States should function.

The recent decision overturning Roe v. Wade, which now takes away a woman’s right to determine how she controls her own body, seems just the first in many decisions that could forever change the fabric of personal freedom in the US, decided by five unelected judges who hold their seats for life.

Since the search of Trump’s home in Florida last week, the Internet has been abuzz with talk of civil war, of eliminating the FBI, impeaching the attorney-general, and the list goes on. Later in the week an individual who participated in the January 6 insurrection walked into the FBI’s district office in Cincinnati, Ohio, armed with assault weapons and body armor, intent on causing havoc there. Fortunately, he was stopped, chased and later apprehended in a cornfield, where, after drawing his weapon, he was killed by police.

Military as a solution?

TO THIS observer, it would seem that the only element of the American empire that continues to function in its traditional mode is the military. While that may be a comforting fact to many, it will not be sufficient to sustain the republic when it is being eaten away from within.

Edward Gibbon, in his treatise on the decline and fall of the Roman Empire, opined: “The army is the only order of men sufficiently united to concur in the same sentiments, and powerful enough to impose them on the rest of their fellow citizens; but the temper of soldiers, habituated at once to violence and to slavery, renders them very unfit guardians of a legal, or even a civil, constitution.”

In other words, the military, based as it is on order and discipline, is critical to the continuation of freedom in a republic. However, if it is the only aspect of the government that is honest and trustworthy, by itself it cannot sustain freedom and democracy forever. At some point, it, too, will become corrupt.

Great damage has been done to the United States by the events of these past years and the inability of a sufficient number of public servants to listen to their consciences. Politicians who sacrifice their values in order to respond to the whims of their constituents, even when they know the negative consequences of such actions, are themselves causative factors in the demise of democracy.

Can America get off life support and regain its position as the world’s leading example of a working democracy? It is not a given that this will be the case. Internal strife, once it divides a country, generally leads to civil war. America may already be there, and, if so, it may take bloodshed and a new Abraham Lincoln to put the country back on course.

It was Lincoln who laid out the required path to right the republic, when he said: “We the people are the rightful masters of both Congress and the courts, not to overthrow the Constitution but to overthrow the men who pervert the Constitution.”

It was true 170 years ago when he said it, and it remains true today. Let us hope the American people realize this as well, before it is too late.

The writer has lived in Israel for 38 years, is CEO of Atid EDI Ltd., a Jerusalem-based international business development consultancy, former national president of the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel, former board chairman of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies and current president of congregation Ohel Nehama in Jerusalem.