Guest columnist Alan Kanner: Another state of the union address: Democracy in danger 

  • Rioters at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington. AP FILE PHOTO/JOHN MINCHILLO

Published: 3/30/2023 12:44:56 PM
Modified: 3/30/2023 12:44:43 PM

Two months after Biden’s State of the Union address here is another address and it is evident that another State of the Union be heard.

Ladies and gentlemen, I want to inform you that the State of the Union has weakened. Not since the time of the Civil War has our country been so divided. Our divisions today are fracturing our country and approaching the gravity of the events which preceded the Civil War. While there are several reasons for this demise, three problems play a central role. One reason is that the racial violence at the center of the Civil War has persisted despite the end of the Civil War. Furthermore, racial violence has been endemic to the American culture since the founding of the nation. While many different groups of people have suffered from racial intolerance, nothing compares to the horrors that have been systematically inflicted upon Black people. Black people and other people of color have always known that there are two kinds of justice in America. There is one system of justice for white people and a different kind of “justice” for people of color — unless you are very wealthy. For far too long in America, wealth has been able to purchase a very special kind of “justice.” Without justice there can be no strong country.

A second and related reason for the weakening of America is the current level of enmity that many Americans possess toward each other. In the 1990s, Newt Gingrich emerged as the spokesperson for creating a new kind of rhetoric in the national political discourse. Gingrich’s vile, belligerent, vicious and hate-filled speech attacked opponents while at the same time titillated large segments of the news media. According to Gingrich, members of the other party were no longer simply your opponents; instead, your opponents needed to be obliterated because they were truly deserving of the scorn you could wreak on them. Before the Gingrich era, the country had prized the notion of statesmanship — the idea that any politician could and would rise above their own political party persuasions to protect and defend the core values of America. Almost single-handedly, Gingrich buried the ideal of statesmanship. Trump capitalized on the Gingrich rhetoric and converted it to a kind of euphoria of endless entertainment and pleasure.

A third reason is the way a fascination and proliferation of lies has overtaken the news media. This pattern appeared most dramatically at the very beginning of the Trump presidency when Kellyanne Conway proclaimed that: “We have alternate facts.” Yet, the foundation for Conway’s “alternate facts” had already been established within the Fox News network with its promotion of “balanced” reporting. Instead of relying on the long-standing practice in journalism of conducting the diligent, time-consuming and arduous work to unearth and reveal the truth, Fox brandished the idea that fairness was the more important construct. Sounds appealing? Soon Fox’s superficial façade of fairness and balanced reporting devolved into the creation of a “he said/she said” environment in which any unfounded, ridiculous, and extreme opinion was worthy of fair and equal representation. Trump mastered the technique and quickly learned that the more outrageous the statement, the more attention his statement garnered. By fanning the flames of ridiculous and outrageous lies, Trump and others’ habitual practice of lying contributed directly to the results of a survey published in The Atlantic in March 2023 where 16% of 20,000 adult respondents sampled agreed that the government, news media and financial worlds were controlled by Satan-worshipping pedophiles. Really? Extrapolating to the entire American adult population, could that mean that 40 million American adults believe that America is controlled by Satan-worshipping pedophiles? Even if we reduce that number to a mere one or two million adults, how shocking is that? What has happened to this country?

Are we at a juncture of time when we are witnessing the early stages of the end of the American Empire? After all, just because the Jan. 6 insurrection did not initially look exactly like the way we are accustomed to seeing governments being overthrown, it does not mean that threat was not real! We have been trained to think that revolutions look like tanks, military troops, explosions, and gunfire everywhere, and presidents fleeing their countries. Look again! This was no mere protest. “Stop the Steal” was not about postponing the election of Mr. Biden. It was about preventing him from becoming president. Imagine if Mr. Biden was not confirmed on Jan 6th ? What would happen next? The entire process of the orderly transfer of power would have been broken and extinguished. As president on Jan 7 , Trump could quite naturally invoke martial law to restore order while bringing together whatever military forces he chooses to entrench his deceit. Trump’s Supreme Court and many of his other judges would not likely impede him. After all, the courts have never been in this type of situation before. There is no precedent for this situation (not that precedent seems to matter to these courts). There it is: a complete collapse of American democracy and there is no one with authority to stop it.

Alan Kanner lives in Amherst. 
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