This is an opinion piece by Karen Hobert Flynn, president of Common Cause, a nonpartisan grassroots organization dedicated to upholding the core values of American democracy.
In the one year since the surprising end to the 2016 election, there’s been a surge in activism and re-engagement by millions of Americans who may have assumed their votes weren’t important, or that our politics had built-in limits to prevent the government from going completely off the rails.
No matter your political perspective, it’s clear that the 365-days since the 2016 election have shocked the system. That’s what Trump voters wanted, so it’s no surprise that many are standing by him. For most Americans however, the president’s lack of accountability, his apparent belief that he and his cabinet are above the law, the increasing evidence of his ties to Russia, and his rampant conflicts of interest constitute an assault on the core values of American democracy and a real threat to self-governance, many of which are detailed in a new report from Common Cause entitled Putin, Trump, and Democracy’s Slippery Slope Toward Oligarchy.
"No matter your political perspective, it’s clear that the 365-days since the 2016 election have shocked the system."
In just one year, President Trump has:
- Repeatedly demonstrated his contempt for the rule of law. Trump fired FBI Director James Comey because Comey wouldn’t shut down an investigation of Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election and the Trump campaign’s possible complicity in it. He’s also threatened to fire Attorney General Jeff Sessions over Sessions’ failure to end the Russia probe. Just last week, he renewed his effort to use the Justice Department for political purposes with a ginned-up investigation of Hillary Clinton.
- Assaulted the Constitution by declaring journalists “enemies of the people” and advocating restraints on press freedom. While decrying “fake news,” the president routinely disseminates stories that are demonstrably false and attacks accurate reporting.
Watch some more video from VICE:
- Set in motion plans to end “net neutrality” protections, giving big telecommunications companies license to restrict the free flow of information online.
- Intensified an ongoing campaign within his party to restrict voting rights and pushed a baseless claim that millions of people voted illegally in 2016.
- Violated the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause by profiting off the patronage of foreign governments at his resort properties.
- Neglected his responsibility to responsibly manage the federal government, leaving hundreds of important jobs open in every federal agency. “I’m generally not going to make a lot of the appointments,” he’s acknowledged.
- Pushed America closer to war by threatening to attack and destroy North Korea.
Maybe worst of all, Trump has done more than I can recount here to pit different groups of Americans against each other. His predecessors, Democrat and Republican alike, were at their best in moments of crisis when they rallied Americans to focus on things that unite us; Trump fosters and thrives on division, strengthening himself while weakening the nation.
"While the presidency is our most powerful office, it is still answerable to "we the people" and our Constitution. We must see that it remains so."
The good news is that Americans are increasingly awake to the danger and willing to stand up against it. While the presidency is our most powerful office, it is still answerable to "we the people" and our Constitution. We must see that it remains so.
Our first responsibility is to engage. Common Cause and other national, regional and local organizations are working every day to strengthen democracy and would welcome your help. Check out Common Cause’s Activist Toolkit for tips on how to maximize your impact.
Here are some other suggestions:
- Register and vote. Thanks to the First Amendment, Americans always have a right to complain about government, but your complaint will be hollow if you've not exercised your right to vote. Unfortunately, that's not always easy; barriers to voting remain in too many places. If you encounter those, push back.
The Election Protection hotline, 866-OURVOTE , connects voters with people who can help remove obstacles encountered on Election Day. Common Cause and other groups are working to give citizens more opportunities to register, provide longer early voting periods, repeal restrictive voter ID requirements and advance other reforms. I'd be delighted to have you join us, but whether it’s with Common Cause or another reform group, please get involved.
- Pick up your pen and fire up your computer. You may be surprised at how interested your representatives in government are in hearing from you. Four decades of working on democracy issues have taught me that thoughtful, personal messages from constituents make a difference. You can get some tips here about how to make yourself heard more effectively. You can make a good start by joining in this effort to protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller and the Russia investigation.
- Get out of the house. Most elected officials hold office hours or open houses to hear directly from constituents. You can get some tips here and here about how to take advantage of those opportunities.
- Broaden your information horizons. Social networks and online news sites make it easy to screen out policy and political views that don't match our own. Don’t do it. “Conservatives” need to check out the Rachel Maddow show and regularly browse left-of-center websites. “Liberals” should take care to test their ideas against those found in The Weekly Standard, or the Wall Street Journal's editorial page. Americans will never resolve our differences if we don't listen to one another.
- Be a skeptic but not a cynic. Tens of thousands of Americans unwittingly “liked” or shared Russia-placed fake news posts on their networks last year, becoming unwitting accomplices in Russia’s cyber-sabotage. One good rule: don't share "news" from sources you don't know without checking it. The website www.snopes.com has a great record of running down and exposing phony stories; some news organizations also have regular “fact-checking” features.
- Support local media. The proliferation of free online news has cost newspapers millions of subscribers and slashed the audiences of local broadcasters, sparking dramatic cuts in reporting and editing staffs. News is more widely available than ever, but there is much less thoughtful, in-depth, reporting than there was just a few years ago. We need to turn that around.
The bottom line is that an engaged, informed citizenry is the first line of defense for democracy; it’s up to each of us to join in the fight.