It is far too early to tell, but at the moment it seems that wheels appear to be coming off an attempted authoritarian takeover of our government by the most venal and incompetent president in our history. If American democracy survives the onslaught of this Russian-backed sedition, we need to resist the temptation to overly congratulate ourselves and celebrate the strengths of our Constitutional protections. Yes, it's worth celebrating that we live to fight another day. But we need to double-down on reinforcing the structures and mores that make America truly great. We need not to only recognize America's strengths, but embrace the fragility that makes America what it is.
A quick story...
In 1993 (yes, I'm a vintage American), I worked for a communications firm that had deep political ties to the Clinton Administration. We had business with the Special Olympics in D.C. and my boss at the time thought it would be great if we could arrange a personal visit to the White House. "We can do that?," I exclaimed. Sure enough, the next morning we're walking through the metal detectors in the West Wing on our way to the Rose Garden to see the president and First Lady as they took off on Marine One to Camp David. As many a photo op shows, there is always a line of spectators who rim the Rose Garden to see the President take off. I thought we'd be there, and it was a privilege just to be that close. Little did I know that my boss had enough clout to get us into a personal receiving line where we would have more than five minutes, personally, to meet with both Bill and Hillary Clinton. I won't get into the specifics of those conversations, only because I was too overwhelmed to really remember them, except to say that both, especially Hillary, had the unique ability to make you feel that for the time that you are together, you are the only person they'd ever met. Had she been able to connect like that in a campaign setting, she'd have been our president, hands-down. But I digress...
The rest of the morning was spent on an intimate tour of the West Wing. The Oval Office. The War Room. The blue press briefing room. The nerve center of the Executive Branch. And here's the thing that some have written about but rarely emphasize: It's small. Despite the cinematic grandeur of the Oval Office, it pales in comparison to the office suites of most Fortune 500 CEO's. The War Room is a small-medium-sized conference room in most corporate settings and while the Press Room looks expansive in the movies, it's tight and confined.
That's because it's the People's House. A workspace for a temp job given to citizens, not royalty, who want to serve their country. Again, by no means, an original thought. But the one thing I did take away was how fragile our government is and how easy it might be for a narcissistic psychopath to subvert it and co-opt its power. The only reason we don't change leaders by sacking the White House and parading into the streets with our former leader's head on a pole is because we choose not to. The rights and privileges we have are conferred solely by consent and compromise, not by some overarching monarchic power that dictates who gets what. That's our strength, but also our vulnerability to thugs like Trump and ideologues like Bannon, Hannity, Limbaugh and Moscow Mitch. They know it's fragile and that we are complacent. They also know that with a continuous diet of fear and blame, it can be pushed over.
Which makes this period of time so critical in our history and why the most encouraging event for our democracy was when millions took to the streets over George Floyd. The miracle of it is that it seems to actually be working as a platform for tangible change and social awareness. I have a hunch why BLM seems to be sticking when other movements flamed out. It's because at heart, the vast majority of Americans are reasonable and committed to each other. The BLM movement has been careful and disciplined to not resonate as the 2020 version of the Black Panthers. There are no firebrand leaders like Eldridge Cleaver or Louis Farrakhan whipping up extremism and hatred. BLM's ask is simple, powerful and universal: Equal justice under the law. It's as fundamentally American as it gets.
The other reason is the steady, daily does of sensational madness and hatred coming out of the White House and the GOP that's reached a critical mass. We're exhausted. Tired of the show. In a state of battered disbelief that the President of the United States can support a crackpot "doctor" who claims that alien DNA is a thing and that the root of sickness is demon sperm. We're sick of the drip, drip, drip of meanness, blame, corruption and gaslighting that oozes into our news cycles. There was no question that George Floyd embodied everything about our polarities and choice about what kind of people we are and want to be. The protests are a primal scream against the bigotry, the literal crushing of individual freedom under the knee of power run amok. Against the murderous consequences of simply being black that has been a cancer in this country since its founding. That, coupled with a blatantly cruel, racist administration and Senate majority, our people, thankfully are choosing a path of justice. It's not over yet, but it's encouraging that more the two-thirds of us say "enough." The question is whether two-thirds of us will show up and say "enough" at the ballot box.