In 1989 East Germans set aside their differences and protested openly and together against a totalitarian state. They were not deterred by the STASI (Staatssicherheitdienst), a police force that had a much larger number of police than Hitler had at his command. In the city of Leipzig, the most notable protests occurred on a weekly basis. Every Monday evening beginning on September 4th, the protesters would meet at the St. Nicholas Church and proceed to march peacefully to the Karl Marx Platz, a large public square in the center of the city. Each week more protesters came and by October 30 over 300,000 protesters converged and marched around the city’s main highway. Leipzig’s population was around 500,000. This protest forced the ruling party to acknowledge its fundamental lack of support, and more importantly, its inability to control the people through fear and violence.
Imagine if we could do something similar in the United States. Consider the power the protesters had by including everyone and by remaining disciplined enough to not commit a single act of violence. The authorities were waiting for an excuse with trucks filled with soldiers, who may or may not have been loyal, ready to be deployed in the event of chaos. Over 300,000 people were able to march for a cause and not throw a single stone or pick a fight over political differences. The presence of hundreds of thousands ensured that East Germans of every political, religious, and social group was there. They didn’t just represent all East Germans, they were East Germany.
Now is the time to make a bold statement. The single most important thing that binds Americans together is the Constitution. It is not the only thing, but it uniquely ties us to our past and gives us a way to chart the future. The Constitution is in danger. The three branches of government that are supposed to serve as checks and balances are all on life support. Like an airplane with multiple engines, it could survive one engine going out, maybe two, but when the last engine goes, the plane must crash. Our Congress has a lower approval rating than Karl Marx. It is dysfunctional because one party is determined to oppose virtually everything proposed by the other. The sole goal of politics has become the acquisition of power. Congressmen and women have been willing to shut down the government rather than compromise. Unsurprisingly, given the amount of money swilling around during elections, there are ethical problems. Some of them might even be inadvertent. Congressional members cannot even agree to measures to protect American citizens from the Covid 19 pandemic and its economic consequences.
The presidency has been taken over by a deeply flawed, and in every way possible, unqualified person. It would be tiresome to list his flaws, but one of the consequences of his being the flag-bearer for the right is that the people who support him are discredited. They know his weaknesses—they aren’t stupid. He is just the only voice that seems to care about their issues. Not only is the sanctity of the Presidency dangerously diminished, Trump is carelessly destroying any possible check on the Executive branch. Blinded by the ceaseless flow of stunning revelations of ineptitude and moral turpitude, we hardly notice that the executive branch is also being dismantled from inside. Heads of departments are not even put up for confirmation. This executive wants to hold complete power by destroying most institutional functions.
For some time Presidents have been collecting greater authority viz a viz the Congress, so this is not completely unprecedented. The use of executive orders, which bypass the legislative branch has been increasing for decades. This is happening because the Congress lacks the backbone to apply the appropriate checks and balances. The members of Congress have mistakenly concluded that their job is to ensure the well-being of their party. Actually, they have made this a reality. So both the Congress and the Executive branches have been assiduously beavering away at deadlock, stalemate, and pointless cultural wars.
That brings us to the last airplane engine, the judicial branch. This is the one that protects the rule of law for everyone without which society would grind to a halt due to a lack of trust. The law, fairly applied, ensures behavior that allows us to trust our business deals, our safety, and our well-being. The Supreme Court has been hanging by a thread for a long time operating with a rough balance of liberal and conservative judges. As long as the distribution was equal, it has been tolerable. The death of Supreme Court Judge Ruth Bader Ginzburg threatens to change the delicate distribution of ideology in the highest court in the land. If Sen. Mitch McConnell follows through with his promise to bring a vote on a proposed replacement, an interminable semi-permanent imbalance will characterize the Court because the President will be able to replace a liberal judge with a conservative one. Most court decisions will fit the demands of the Republican party and thus it will no longer act as a neutral arbiter.
Turning the Supreme Court into an ideological battle ground is bad for everybody, particularly if the quality of nominees is secondary to loyalty. Judges should be reconciling the legal outline provided by the founders with the changing conditions of the modern world. Judges should be aware of the changing views of the broader pubic and be able to consider compromises. We need more like Judge Sandra Day O’Connor, who ruled independently and with close scrutiny of the modern context. Although the justices would still hear arguments in court, the decisions will increasingly be decided on political rather than legal terms and tilt towards the Right, the merits of the cases be damned.
If all three branches are corrupted, we no longer have a fully functioning government. There is no governing institution left. We cannot allow drifting away from the basic institutions of the Constitution. Indeed, as I write, the president is threatening to not respect either the sanctity of the ballot box or the validity of the voters’ choice. He not only threatens the voters with violence leading up to election day, he promises violence afterwards. There can be little doubt that even if he loses, he will collect the forces of disorder into a semi-terrorist national force. He should be impeached immediately for fomenting a civil war.
A show of unity is necessary. Most of the country is sick of the corrupt leadership. The Right and the Left share contempt for the government. Separatists want to leave, militia men want government out of their hair, and the Left wants a revolution. Tea party supporters and, at the other end of the so-called spectrum, antifas are equally frustrated. Yes, there are different agendas mostly stemming from the decades of Cold War brainwashing. In retrospect however, the minimalist juxtaposition of socialism versus capitalism unnecessarily divided Europe, fanned the flames of proxy wars, and defined the global map of haves and have-nots. It disguised the fact that it was actually more of a geo-political contest than an ideological one.
Be that as it may, the anachronistic use of the tried and true Manichean battle between socialism versus capitalism, good versus evil, is even less appropriate today. Apparently, the fall of the wall in 1989 followed swiftly by the ignoble collapse of the Soviet Union has gone unnoticed in many quarters. North Korea does not have road map for anybody. And, while we were lolling in our new-found status as masters of the universe, the liberal democratic system sprouted a number of leaks. Western Europe ran into financial problems, the European Union program has run into some trouble, and it struggles with the issue of migrants. The U.S. has blundered into pointless wars in the Middle East, managing to stimulate even greater violence and instability. The financial and standard of living levels have become as unequal as the gilded era or the Ancien Regime preceding the French Revolution. All of the perks of having won the Cold War are disappearing.
Yet the two ideologies that have done the most to hold us back are being resurrected because it is the laziest way to grab the attention of an electorate that would really rather not deal with politics.
What we agree on should be the question instead of the endless barrage of denunciations. It turns out, quite a bit. We agree that each individual matters and that enabling the full enjoyment of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for everyone is good for society. We agree that corruption is bad, that the über rich should pay more taxes, that health care is a right not a privilege, and that the environment is worth saving. We may even finally be coming around to recognizing the persistence of systemic racism. We disagree on how to achieve these goals. There are many issues that we could find compromises for if only we didn’t see every little difference as a call to arms against the other party.
If we focus on what we share, and perhaps keep in mind that whatever happens, we will still be living in the same space with each other, we might be able to save the constitution. Even if we have different interpretations of the constitution, which is why we have the Supreme Court, we should be able to respect the rule of law.
A mega-rally does not preclude continuing advocacy for issues that you care about; it’s a recognition that despite all the rhetoric, we still have some common values. The rule of law and a responsible and competent government is our priority. We do not need the Hatfields and the McCoys. Above all, we need to make this very clear to the political leadership, which is why we should try to get hundreds of thousands to come together in all the major cities in every state.
I am fully aware of how naïve this sounds. But at this point, our leadership has failed us and we are bashing our heads against the wall doing the same thing over and over. At what point are we certifiable? Consider that another option is to throw out the constitution and start over. If you think there is conflict now, just imagine the debate over a whole new set of rules. I don’t see anybody with the stature of the founding fathers.
Perhaps we are not on the brink of disaster—we’ll know in a few weeks. I suspect that we are not, but it is deeply disturbing to have ideas floated such as a third term for a president or a hundred ways to make the citizens of this country not trust the results of any election.
Coming together and demonstrating with your opponents will change the dialogue. We need new ideas not another Red Scare or a rehash of the Civil War. We need unity now more than ever, and we should find a vehicle to express it.