Evil arrived in Charlottesville this past weekend when white nationalists and Neo-Nazis terrorized this quiet college town. Lives were lost, many injured and hate was on full display and the President could only muster a tepid response about “many sides” which is a false moral equivalency. I honestly can’t believe I’m living in 2017 and after each egregious step of the Trump presidency I ask myself; is this what democracy looks like?
Even though racism is on the rise, perverted untruths are unloaded daily and fire and fury rhetoric is now common place, yes, I believe this is what democracy looks like. Our democracy is terrifying but at the same time this sort of beautiful chaos with the checks and balances of our government in full flex. This gives me hope.
We are seeing signs our democracy is working as it was designed to combat against destructive forces. Politicians are finding their profile in courage moments and listening to their constituents. People are organizing and attending town halls nationwide. Congress has made it impossible for Trump to fire the Attorney General or stop the Special Counsel through legislative action and political pressure.
Our government still works even though it can be slow, messy and frustrating with no straight path for ideas and policies to become law or fix problems which are complicated by ideology. I learned quickly as a legislative assistant at a lobbying firm in Washington, D.C. how a bill becomes a law was not the sterilized version presented in civics class. Politicians, special interests and, advocacy organizations don’t just rely on the merits of good legislation but branding, public relations, and polling play an important role. Also, constituents’ power is often underutilized or taken for granted with many citizens simply not voting which is a right at the heart of our democracy which is not exercised enough.
For those who did vote in the 2016 election, your motivations were based on core values, a passion for issues you care about or out of desperation for a bad social or economic situation. I believe some who voted for Trump had no ill intent but must confront the rationalizations that were made to vote for a candidate who appeases white nationalists. This has had tangible negative consequences and Charlottesville’s Mayor Michael Signer said it best, “When you dance with the devil, the devil changes you.” The outcome of last year’s election has changed us but I do see people trying to live up to our American values even though our President doesn’t.
People now more than ever hide behind the First Amendment to do say horrible things, as we saw in Charlottesville, and how we handle free speech will determine how great America will be in the future. Free speech is a responsibility and that can be wielded for good or evil purposes and Americans have proven throughout history we can handle this privilege and triumph because of it.
We may be saturated in an environment where lies are told often and with a tenacity which leads people to accept them as truths. But curiosity to seek out the truth will prevail and when we speak with compassion and tolerance, acknowledge philosophical differences divorced from conspiracy theories, think logically while trying to check our own biases at the door, we all will win.
I have faith that healthcare legislation with no real hope of delivering better coverage will never pass. The investigations regarding the Trump campaign’s collusion with Russia will proceed unimpeded with a free press reporting along the way. Immigration policies meant to create fear and violate the Constitution will remain banned and our own immigrant history will be the clarion call for better immigration and refugee policies. Racism will be overcome and extinguished from our government.
I also try to remember our history and that democracy has never been easy. It comes in many forms too, such as lifetime government employees doing their jobs regardless of political party, phone calls to Capitol Hill and long lines to vote. For me I remember the rallying cry, “this is what democracy looks like,” from the millions of protesters at the Women’s March and seeing the streets of D.C. overflowing with peaceful marchers. We’ll always be shaping our democracy for better or worse.