By Andrew Malekoff
As the first anniversary of the armed attack on the U.S. Capitol approaches, the haunting words of renowned historian Doris Kearns Goodwin ring out as a warning to all Americans. Journalist Brian Williams asked Goodwin, “If life is a clock face, and democracy runs out at midnight, where do you reckon the clock is right about now?” She replied, “It is as close to midnight as anything that I’ve seen in my lifetime.”
Sen. Liz Cheney echoed Goodwin’s concern, stating that the Jan. 6 assault against the Constitution represents “the moral test of our time, our generation.”
Freedom House, a nonprofit dedicated to the belief that democracy and human rights are essential for international peace, found that among 210 countries and territories the U.S. is one of 25 countries in the last 10 years that has shown significant decline in individual freedoms, including people’s access to political rights and civil liberties.
Goodwin, who won the Pulitzer Prize for History in 1995, recollected that only the periods just prior to the Civil War and World War II were possibly more dire. To turn back the clock she cautioned, “The fight for the right to vote has to be the central fight that people are fighting in this country.”
In fact, the analysis presented by Freedom House shows that the U.S. has fallen behind Germany, Italy and Japan, once our mortal enemies in the fight against far-right nationalism, fascism and totalitarianism. My, how the pendulum has swung since the U.S. joined the WWII allied forces in December 1941.
What all U.S. representatives have in common is that they take an oath in which they solemnly swear to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” As do all U.S. presidents who swear to “faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
In the run up to and aftermath of the Jan. 6 insurgency, in which people died, scores of our representatives whose souls have been hijacked by Donald Trump, failed to uphold their oath of office in order to mollify or curry favor with their golden goose. Freedom House concluded that, “Trump’s actions went unchecked by most lawmakers from his own party, with a stunning silence that undermined basic democratic tenets.”
In a complete dereliction of duty, Donald Trump betrayed the police who fought valiantly, held the line and took a brutal beating to protect our Constitution, despite his oath to protect and defend it.
As U.S. Rep. and former Army Ranger Jason Crow asserted, “Democracy is not inevitable and self-perpetuating. Democracy represents norms that are upheld by people.”
At the same time that the struggle for Jan. 6 accountability and justice advances, we would all do well to remember LBJ’s sentiments upon the Voting Rights Act of 1965 being signed into law: “The basic right to vote is the most fundamental of all rights without which all the rest are meaningless.”
What we need, the Freedom House report concluded, is a “serious and sustained reform effort to repair the damage done during the Trump era to the perception and reality of basic rights and freedoms in the United States.” This must begin with Congress passing voting rights legislation, which is the key to safeguarding democracy in America.
“What is the point of democracy,” Goodwin said, “if individuals can’t vote.” Denying Americans the right to vote, quashing voter rights and bringing back voter suppression is the “fundamental fight of our time.”