Commentary

A Republic, if we can keep it: Now is not the time for despair, but renewed and relentless action

July 4, 2022 9:00 am
American flag flying with U.S. Capitol in the background.

A flag flies near the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., in file photo from Dec. 18. 2019. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Getty Images)

Most of us have heard the tale: As Benjamin Franklin walked out of Independence Hall after the Constitutional Convention in 1787, someone shouted out, “Doctor, what have we got? A republic or a monarchy?” Franklin is said to have responded, “A Republic, if you can keep it.”

This Independence Day, many Americans feel betrayed and abandoned in the centuries-long struggle not only to preserve the American Republic, but to extend to all Americans the basic human rights and protections first afforded to only a few.

Human civilization has forever been locked in a battle between the will and needs of the people and the self-serving designs of reactionary authoritarians.

America has been no different, and the forces that would drag us back into servile subjugation for the advantages of a privileged few are working as hard as they ever have, gathering any victory, by hook or by crook.

They’ve often won short-term battles in the course of our history, before being smote down by the blood, sweat and tears of the people of progress.

The court of Chief Justice Roger B. Taney blessed chattel slavery with its Dred Scott decision in 1857, and the court of Chief Justice Melville W. Fuller endorsed segregation with Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896. The U.S. Supreme Court has, in the past, supported white supremacist mobs, shot down child labor laws, axed minimum wage laws, and sanctioned union busting that notoriously then involved the open murder of workers and even the burning to death of women and children by National Guardsmen.

But the forces of progress won the Civil War and gave us the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments. The forces of progress gave us the 19th Amendment, and enshrined child labor laws, worker rights, women’s rights, desegregation, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, and equal marriage rights.

Through centuries of strife and bloodshed, everyday Americans, pouring out their hearts and lives, won these victories. Now, some are being rolled back, and others are under grave threat.

Progress is not inevitable. It never has been, and never will be. The forces pulling us back toward tyranny and subjugation have always been with us, and always will be.

By the mid-1870s, Reconstruction was abandoned and Jim Crow racism triumphed for a century. The systemic reverberations of racism have persisted through the decades to the present.

Our current moment weighs heavy. The fate of progress appears bleak. Many want to suppress and erase that painful but important past.

The Voting Rights Act has been gutted by the modern Supreme Court, and the court has allowed corrupt, dark campaign financing on massive scales to rage.

This year, the Republican activist court has dismantled the separation of church and state by allowing taxpayer funding of religious institutions, expanded gun access, allowed teacher-and-student peer pressure prayer in schools, and severely limited the EPA’s ability to combat greenhouse gas emissions.

And America just saw 50 years of national abortion rights ripped away by a Supreme Court comprised of three justices appointed by an American president who lost the popular vote by millions twice, and waged an authoritarian coup to overturn a free and fair election.

As we’ve learned starkly in hearing after hearing, Donald Trump knew he lost the 2020 election, and lied about it anyway. He knew it was illegal to try to overturn the election, and tried to overturn it anyway. He knew his supporters were armed, and told them on Jan. 6 to “fight like hell” and march on the Capitol anyway.

The Capitol was sacked. Constitutional business was halted. The chain of command was put in jeopardy. Lawmakers fled and hid for their lives. Trump was giddy, and approved of the crowd’s chants to hang his vice president.

This is all treason, akin to an act of war.

On Wednesday evening, speaking at the Ronald Reagan Library, Republican U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney said, “At this moment, we are confronting a domestic threat we have never faced before — a former President who is attempting to unravel the foundations of our Constitutional Republic.”

She said Republicans could be loyal to Trump or the Constitution, not both.

But polls show Republicans overwhelmingly back his return to the White House anyway.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court, which is turning unchecked power over to state governments, is also making sure that those state governments can be rigged to enshrine undue Republican political power.

The court claims its actions are to return power to the people and their representatives, but the court also just upheld racial gerrymandering in Louisiana. And two Trump-appointed federal judges have enacted Ohio Republicans’ plan to force voters to cast ballots in unlawful and unconstitutionally gerrymandered Statehouse districts this November.

Meanwhile, the court has agreed to hear a case that revives the long-dead “independent state legislature theory” to further bless gerrymandering and extremist state legislative rule as the ultimate authority, including over state supreme courts. This was the basis of the Trump legal team’s theory that state legislatures could pick electors to support a candidate who did not get a majority of votes in a state.

The over-arching strategy is transparent: Rig statehouses with Republican gerrymandering, and cheat voters out of legitimate representation; then return unchecked power to extremist Republican statehouses. And then, according to U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley, push undesirable voters to move out of these states, in order to secure an Electoral College advantage in presidential elections via population shift. Or use state legislative power to begin simply overturning voters’ will.

Their expectation, then, is to continue to lose the popular vote — which they have in every presidential election save one since 1992 — but continue to win the presidency regardless.

This is how a minority that does not represent what most Americans want seizes the reins of power and brings the boot of tyranny down on the face of America.

Americans’ privacy rights, health care rights, marriage rights, discrimination protections, and equal protection under the law all now look to be on the chopping block, given over unjustly into the hands of extremist lawmakers from rigged districts.

This isn’t just a well-choreographed war against the progress of the past; this is a war against the ideals of representative government and democracy. This is a war against the very heart of the American Republic.

We must not despair. The legacy of progress from past generations, and the rights, freedom, and liberty of future generations, are on our shoulders.

We were built for this moment, each of us in our own ways, with our own duties, to do everything we can to meet it.

For now, voters still have the information and the imperfect tools they need available to them to save the Republic.

This is no time to shrink, but rather to rise and fight, for decades, for the rest of our lives, if that’s what it takes.

This Fourth of July, I will not be made despondent by the malicious designs of traitors and tyrants.

I will be celebrating the unfolding of progress paid for in blood by patriots, who fought for human rights, and freedom, and dignity, and justice, and equality, and the true representative democratic ideals of our American Republic, for generation upon generation. We must take up their mantle, and defend it to the last.

About this column

This column was originally published by Ohio Capital Journal, which is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Ohio Capital Journal maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor David DeWitt for questions: [email protected] Follow Ohio Capital Journal on Facebook and Twitter.

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David DeWitt
David DeWitt

Ohio Capital Journal Editor-in-Chief David DeWitt has more than 15 years experience covering Ohio government, politics and policy, including education, health care, crime and courts, poverty, state and local government, business, labor, energy, environment, and social issues. He has worked for the National Journal, The New York Observer, The Athens NEWS, and Plunderbund.com. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism and is a board member of the E.W. Scripps Society of Alumni and Friends. He can be found on Twitter @DC_DeWitt.

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