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This Is How You Preserve Democracy?

After years of preparation, you have risen to the pinnacle of power, prestige, and influence. You work for the executive branch of the federal government, giving you the opportunity to shape policy and improve the lives of your fellow citizens.

So what do you do with this opportunity? Perhaps you abet a president who is attacking the nation’s press, a core pillar of our liberal democracy. In addition to that, you sit back and let this president spew racist insults and promote intolerant and divisive policies based on race and religion. You revel in the wholesale elimination of regulations that protect vulnerable citizens from environmental degradation. You sit back and allow the president his team to institute the hateful policy of separating immigrant children (babies and toddlers included) from their parents. You acquiesce in an administration that questions the rule of law, attacking Justice Department lawyers, the CIA, and the very nature of criminal investigations. You say nothing as press secretary after press secretary engages in a daily bob and weave with news representatives without remotely acknowledging the notion of objective truth.

Still, you have the gall to say--anonymously--that you are doing what you can to “preserve our democratic institutions.”

This is why I was hardly impressed with the op-ed from a “senior official in the administration.” Nor was I in favor of The New York Times printing this piece, which is already being used by right-wing advocates of the current president as evidence of the “deep state” and influence of the media.

In a Friday speech, former President Obama took the words right out of my mouth:

The claim that everything will turn out O.K. because there are people inside the White House who secretly aren’t following the president’s orders, this is not a check. . . That’s not how our democracy is supposed to work. They’re not doing us a service by actively promoting 90 percent of the crazy stuff that’s coming out of this White House and then saying don’t worry we’re preventing the other 10 percent.

That “crazy stuff” President Obama is talking about is in large part core Republican policy.

To be clear, the current president is a coarse and unfit leader, unprecedented in demeanor and manner. But this presidency is both an aberration and a culmination. Republicans (including Mr. or Ms. “Anonymous”) are pleased with the overall direction of this presidency. They have been rewarded with lower taxes on corporations and the wealthy, as well as with the nomination of two business-friendly conservative Justices. They think that their private unhappiness with the current president’s words and behavior inoculates them from any real responsibility to preserve the future of our country.

Democrats will yell until we are blue in the face--and we have. But until Republicans (and not those few who are retiring) stand up to this president and his “base”, we will continue to spiral away from our roots as a constitutional democracy.

As someone with a sense of history, I know that Republican presidents have messed up before, and were then rescued by Democrats. In the 1920s, three consecutive stooges of big business (Presidents Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover) instituted extreme pro-corporate policies, drastically lowering taxes, eliminating regulations on banks, and high tariffs. Oh, and they significantly cut immigration too, while also promoting a severe form of isolationism. How did all that turn out? Well, perhaps you have heard of the Great Depression. It took several terms of the FDR administration (sometimes thwarted by a right-wing Supreme Court) to fix it.

In the first decade of this century, the second President Bush (now a darling of the moderate left because he is more normal than the current president) promulgated policies of low taxes and low regulation. Maybe you remember the economic downturn that ensued. Though the current president likes to take credit for the recovery from that period, it was Obama policy (rescuing the auto industry, passing an economic stimulus plan) that was most influential.

In sum, for the past century or so, Republicans have been consistently pro-business and pro-wealthy. While there is nothing inherently wrong with supporting the rich and powerful (they are citizens too, right?), when such policies are taken too far they create divisions that weaken the overall economy. Moreover, their laissez-faire attitude toward banks and corporations arguably led to both economic disasters I referenced above. These policies are conservatism on steroids--extreme adherence to the most right-wing agenda possible, despite what evidence shows to be true.

Some Republicans have been more fact-based and willing to support policy designed for the general good (Eisenhower comes to mind, and even Nixon’s economic and environmental record is fairly moderate). But the overall trend has been from bad to worse. We thought Reagan was bad, and then we got Gingrich. Then we got Bush. Now look where we are.

Democrats are no knights in shining armor. Clinton signed legislation eliminating the Glass-Steagall Act, thus allowing the conglomeration of banks. He also instituted extreme criminal justice policies and sentencing guidelines that had a severe impact on men of color. But Democrats have also been the ones behind advances such as Social Security, Medicare, the federal income tax, labor regulations, and the Affordable Health Care Act--all of which sought to improve lives for a broader swath of Americans.

So under the current president, we have the conservative, pro-business, anti-fact based agenda that has been part of Republican practice for a number of years. In order to get that, Republicans in all three branches, have been happily going along with a presidency that is off the rails and threatens core values of our democracy. This is a hurricane of disastrous proportions.

So forgive me for being underwhelmed when one of these Republicans raises a small and largely impotent voice against this wind. Much more than that is necessary to preserve our democratic future.

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