Sunday, December 11, 2016

Don't Give Up on our Republic

At the close of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, as he left Independence Hall on the final day of deliberation Ben Franklin is reported to have been asked, “Well, Doctor, what have we got—a Republic or a Monarchy?” He replied, “A Republic, if you can keep it.”

Though many of us assume that since our Republic has withstood numerous trials since its founding it is certainly durable today. Recent research by Harvard lecturer Yascha Mounk and Roberto Stefan Foa, a political scientist at the University of Melbourne in Australia suggests that may not be the case. The November election results support the report’s findings.

This worrisome trend isn’t found just in the United States. In previously published work the researchers calculated that 57 percent of older Americans believed it was legitimate for the military to take over if the government were incompetent or failing to do its job, while 81 percent of millennials agreed. The same generational divide showed up in Europe, where 47 percent of older people thought a military takeover would be legitimate, while only 64 percent of millennials agreed.
Data from Freedom House, a watchdog organization that measures democracy and freedom around the world, shows that the number of countries classified as “free” rose steadily from the mid-1970s to the early 2000s. Many Latin American countries transitioned from military rule to democracy; after the end of the Cold War, much of Eastern Europe followed suit. And longstanding liberal democracies in North America, Western Europe and Australia seemed more secure than ever.
But for the last decade, Freedom House’s index has shown a decline in global freedom each year. Over the past 10 years, 105 countries, the United States among them, have seen a net decline, and only 61 have experienced a net improvement.
In other research published earlier this year it was found that Trump supporters tended to score high on a scale of authoritarian behavior and that fear would drive those who don’t typically score high on that scale to have their score increase.
Venezuela, once had the highest possible scores on Freedom House’s measures of political rights and democracy in the 1980s. Even then Venezuela already scored as deconsolidating on the test Mounk and Foa developed to ascertain the health of a democracy. Since then, Venezuelan democracy has declined significantly. In 1992 there was an attempted a coup against the democratically elected government. In 1998 Hugo Chávez was elected president on a wave of populist support, and he immediately passed a new constitution that consolidated his power. His government cracked down on dissent, imprisoned political opponents and shredded the country’s economy with a series of ill-planned economic overhauls.

Donald Trump ran on a populist platform, he evoked an authoritarian ideal saying “Only I can solve - the problem du jour”. Since his election he has called a meeting with some of the biggest media companies and threatened them in addition to his campaign promise to weaken their libel protections so they can be sued. Today he is threatening to prosecute Hillary Clinton if she pursues recounts of votes in swing states. His economic plans are reported by most economists as dangerous to downright tragic. I know people who have compared Trump to Mussolini or even Hitler but I think a more apt and recent model is likely Hugo Chávez.

I’m not ready to give up on our Republic and I hope you aren’t either but it’s going to take effort on the part of every citizen to restore our freedom are you ready to do your part?

Published in the Seguin Gazette December 2, 2016

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