Can the US ‘keep’ its Republic?

Are you numb yet? Are the daily disasters (fires, hurricanes, Trump administration cabinet appointments) and near nuclear armageddons taking their toll?

If you pay attention to the news, you may be getting the sense that we are headed toward dystopia. Between having a madman in the White House, mass shootings, realizing a foreign government successfully interfered in our election last year (and continues to manipulate us through propaganda) and the problems that have always been there — racism, sexual harassment, poverty — it feels like too much.

When asked whether the Constitutional Convention had created a monarchy or a republic, Benjamin Franklin reportedly answered: “A Republic, if you can keep it.”

With Donald Trump in the White House, acting more like an autocrat than a president with his appointments of loyal, unqualified people to key posts and cabinet positions; his discrediting of the media; and his blatant lies (“alternative facts”) about everything from the crowd size at his events to Barack Obama having his “wires tapped,” to regular schoolyard taunts toward North Korea’s Kim Jong-un (“Rocket Man”). Each day, it feels like the Republic is slipping further out of reach.

As a citizen, doing nothing isn’t acceptable. When I used to hear about people who are perfectly capable of voting, but don’t, I got annoyed. Now, I get angry.

I’ve heard every excuse imaginable: “It doesn’t count.” Often, I hear it from people of relative privilege; their lives aren’t on the line, so who cares? Other times, it’s “All politicians are corrupt, so it doesn’t matter.” Many people take the right to vote for granted, but don’t want to accept any of the responsibility that comes with it.

Ten years ago, talking about dismantling social security or Medicare was political suicide. Voting to do either was basically ensuring that your chances of re-election would drop, if not crash and burn. The possibility was there, but the threat level wasn’t “code red.”

Now, we have Speaker Paul Ryan talking about “entitlement reform” as next up on the agenda. Whether it happens or not, Republicans in Congress aren’t heading for the hills like they once did when the topic arose.

The increasingly outsized influence of money in politics, with decisions like Citizens United, that helped create the Tea Party are factors, but where is our responsibility as citizens? Nobody is forced to watch Fox News or consume any information.

If the thought of millions of vulnerable people without health care or living in poverty hasn’t bothered you yet, maybe it never will. But you can’t pretend like it’s invisible anymore. Yes, you can tune out the news. But unless you are living in a cave or a castle, you see more people on the streets people living in cars.

It’s interesting that Republicans, who love to tout the virtue of “personal responsibility,” are the ones telling their constituents that all of their problems are the result of someone else: welfare moms, immigrants, elites, lazy people, “others.” They feed their constituents this nonsense while voting to give tax breaks to the rich, fight unions and support policies that drive down wages. They appeal to the narcissism of bible-thumping religious radicals who can always be holier than you — if they can’t be richer, better-looking, smarter, more charming or have more toys than you.

As long as this strategy continues to work, in which people continue to vote against their own self interest — and pull the rest of us down toward dystopia with their delusions — I’d argue that, if you have a conscience, you must vote. And the way things are right now, I’d also argue that you cannot vote Republican, because of what they stand for.

Now that we know how many are willing to protect a president who is more beholden to Vladimir Putin than the American people, there’s no more dancing around it.

Are Democrats the salvation? No. I’m a Democrat, and I know my own party has been complicit in some of these policies. But until we get big money out of politics, we will continue to see candidates who are good at fundraising rise to the top, because you aren’t going to vote for someone you’ve never even heard of.

Right now, Democrats are the party of Keeping the Republic. We need to save the Republic by refusing to accept a dictator and not supporting his enablers. Then, hopefully, we can begin to take a harder look at how we got to this point and what we can do to make sure this never happens again.

Maureen Erwin is a Bay Area political consultant. Most recently she led Sonoma County’s Measure M, which will create the largest GMO-free growing zone in the U.S.

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