There are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpation.”

James Madison

Ask any politician, political commentator, or cable talking-head about the greatest threats facing America and you will predictably hear China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, nuclear Armageddon, socialism, immigration, secularism, loss of moral values, or even climate change.

While each represents a potentially serious risk to our democratic Republic, they pale beside the danger posed by the loss of reverence for the Constitution, confidence in our nation’s most important and historically-respected institutions and respect for fellow citizens by a growing segment of the American public from across the political spectrum.

The “cancel culture” adopted by students, professors and ultra-progressives on the Left who have forgotten the freedom of speech which allows them to openly advocate positions and policies without fear of retribution also obligates them to afford the same freedom to those whose views may be repulsive to their core beliefs.  Their intolerance by banning or shouting-down speakers with whom they disagree is un-American and has created deep divides along partisan lines. 

Millions of Americans have been desensitized by both Republican and Democratic politicians and a social media world where emotion, anger and partisan tribalism have replaced reason, decency, objective truth or a willingness to find common ground and reasonable compromises with others.   

Blame must also be attributed to Donald Trump whose words and actions have demonstrated his lack of appreciation and understanding of and commitment to the ideals on which our nation was founded and the Constitution.  He has based his political career on anger; retribution; amplifying patently false conspiracy theories; publicly criticizing anyone who disagrees with him; denigrating the Justice Department, FBI, U.S. intelligence agencies, the CDC, and the media together with the decent people they employ; and, most dangerous, his continued unwillingness to concede his 2020 election defeat for which there is no evidence of fraud which would have changed the results. 

His rhetoric has indoctrinated his ardent followers with fear and resentment of “others”, particularly minorities and immigrants, and created an environment of distrust of our government which has become his currency for normalizing extreme political positions and justifying alarming authoritarian measures to “Make America Great Again” … a return to a cartoonish, less pluralistic and less free for many past in which the challenges, bigotry, and periodic lethal consequences of national policies and humanly-flawed leaders never existed.  

Recent polls indicate less than 20% of the public believe the government can be trusted.  Congress, the poster-child for mistrusted governmental institutions, has a mere 10% approval rating.  A majority of Americans now believe the Supreme Court has become overly politicized with its confidence at an historic low of 36%.  Not far behind is the Executive Branch where the no-confidence level is remains shy of 40%.

This national malaise has now filtered down to state legislatures and even local school boards which have become so polarized their historically-high public credibility has plummeted.

More frightening;

  • 80% of both Republicans and Democrats believe large and “dark money” donors, lobbyists and special interests have far too much influence on members of Congress at the expense of their constituents;
  • 47% or Biden supporters and 37% of Trump supporters are willing to restrict the freedom of speech they deem “discretionary or offensive;
  • 30% of Trump supporters and 25% of Biden supporters believe elections should be suspended in times of crisis; and
  • 41% of Biden supporters and 38% of Trump supporters agreed it was acceptable to employ violence to achieve otherwise unattainable goals or stop political opponents … hardly a shock after the January 6, 2021 insurrection at the Capitol.

Today, many Americans feel threatened by complex and evolving racial, ethnic, social, and religious changes from which they perceive their country’s democratic institutions are incapable to liberate them.  Such fear and uncertainty undermine the common bonds which binds our nation, erode mutual respect between fellow citizens and enhance the attractiveness to demigods and authoritarians offering simplistic solutions. 

Both Democratic and Republican candidates for president continue to campaign on a theme the 2024 presidential election may be the most consequential in American history. Ominously, a former Republican governor has stated the 2024 election may be the last one “decided by ballots rather than bullets.”

If America is not to start down the slippery slope which harkened the demise of the democratic Weimar Republic and spell the end of our nearly 250-year experiment in representative self-government, its citizens must resist fear and distrust, discard an “us” versus “them” mentality, embrace democratic values, recognize the importance of compromise and view those with whom they may disagree as loyal Americans not reviled as enemies.

George Santayana noted, “Those who cannot remember history are condemned to repeat it.”   The future is in our collective hands.