You know that flag flying over the courthouse means certain things are set in stone
Who we are, what we’ll do and what we won’t – Bruce Springsteen, Long Walk Home 2007
In the grand scheme of things, the American democratic experiment is pretty new, young, and now clearly under duress. I recognize that the bias of recency tends to make us all feel that whatever we are experiencing at the moment is the best/worst that anyone anywhere has ever experienced. So, despite how unsettled I feel with the politics of the day, I don’t pretend to think that this feels worse to me than 1963 or 1968 felt to my parents or 1940-45 felt to my grandparents or how the Civil Rights Era felt to those under the heel of unrestrained racism. What I do know with certainty is that fundamental principles of democracy and social order, as I, and perhaps you, were raised to understand them, are not shared by a substantial number of our fellow Americans.
That disconnect is a problem because the dichotomy of perspective reflects not a split about tax policy, the size and scope of public assistance programs, national defense, or environmental policy, but about the fundamental role of facts in decision-making and the extent to which government power is exercised with a respect for the will and consent of the governed. We are not engaged in debate about policy, but instead about the rules of governance. What we have learned unmistakably this past week is that the greatest threats to American democracy come not from external agents or foreign governments, but from within. The irony is that our national historic response to external threats has been to unite as a country. Our response to the internal threat has been to splinter and divide ourselves. Last week’s seditious behavior of rioters and their elected enablers has succeeded where Castro, Khrushchev, Hitler, Putin, Mao, Bin Laden and other hostile foreign nationals have all failed; by shaking the underpinnings of our institutions.
I have said it before, a government that does not both respect the truth and the will of the governed will not make decisions that reflect their needs nor will it be protective of the public health and environment. Just last week, under the cover of the turmoil they helped foment, the Trump administration pushed through numerous anti-environment rules. One particularly cynical U.S. Department of Interior rule regarding the long-standing Migratory Bird Treaty Act narrowed the consideration of the impact of projects on public land to actual physical harm to birds, their eggs, or their nests. It no longer matters if a project destroys their habitat, migration routes, or food supplies. And once the existing birds die off because they no longer have any place to live, the problem for the developers goes away entirely. The fact that this rule, like so many others, was resoundingly opposed by the vast majority of commenters made no difference in the decision-making process.
I do not want to live in a country where the voices of the governed are ignored in matters large and small, in matters of regulation and elections, and where decisions are made about who gets a say about who does and does not prosper. That is where we stand here, now, in 2021. It is time to speak up; staying silent and uninvolved is actually picking a side ― the side that will prevent you from changing your mind and reclaiming your voice if you relinquish it now. If you want to be a voice for the birds, or for clean air, or for voters’ rights, or for retaining the right to express your opinion without fear from personal harm, now is the time to speak up. Vote. Talk to your elected leaders, engage in peaceful protest, share your worries about seditious or violent activity you may have heard about. More than anything, get involved and by protecting the rights of one of us you are protecting all of us. Start now, while you still can.
First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
Martin Niemöller, Lutheran Pastor