Play taps for America. For a breach of faith with those we memorialize. We pay tribute to generations of Americans who paid with their lives so democracy — messy, impassioned democracy — would endure. Yet today we stand at the precipice of its demise. That’s not hyperbole. That’s a five-alarm fire burning down the house and nobody giving a damn. But our democratic republic, forged as a birthright over centuries of bloody battles for independence, to save the union, to defeat tyranny, could easily end as soon as the next election or two.
The dominoes are falling. In plain sight. Self-determination is tumbling toward a finish line of authoritarian rule. A shellshocked nation clings to the path of least resistance. But the parts in play that flirt with disaster — to control election outcomes or cancel voting results the ruling political party doesn’t like — are coming together in rapid succession. In statehouses across the country, including Ohio’s, majority Republicans have contrived all sorts of ways to make voting harder, instead of easier, especially for the poor, old, young, those dependent on public transportation, etc.
By tacking on extra voter I.D. requirements, adding steps and tighter deadlines for absentee ballots, cutting early voting hours, limiting drop boxes or purging tens of thousands of registered voters from the rolls, the GOP hopes to suppress participation, not encourage it. If more people vote, an infamous presidential candidate once mused out loud, Republicans will never win elections. So, voting hurdles multiple on the ruse of improving security and integrity to already secure and impartial election systems. In some states, lawmakers have even made themselves the final arbiters of county elections and who runs them.
Imagine a Republican majority in Congress making itself the final arbiter of the next presidential election. The dominoes are cascading in that direction. Just months ago, most House Republicans, including Ohio Reps. Chabot, Davidson, Gibbs, Johnson and Jordan, voted to discard the choice of American voters for president because their guy lost. Despite overwhelming evidence to refute the losing candidate’s bogus claims of widespread voter fraud and irregularities, these Republicans and six in the Senate voted to overturn certified votes based on those trumped-up complaints.
The anti-democratic politicians did the unconscionable after an anti-democratic mob tried to achieve the same thing by storming the Capitol. Fortunately, both fascistic forces failed to prevent the peaceful transfer of power, a bulwark of our democracy, from occurring. But they may succeed in 2024.
If Republicans seize both houses of Congress before the next presidential election — thanks to gerrymandered redistricting and voter suppression laws — what would stop them from overriding the will of American voters again? Scruples? A sense of duty to country over party? If 147 congressional Republicans, who took an oath to uphold the Constitution, thought it was okay to reject millions of valid votes following a violent attack on the seat of government, consider what team players with absolute authority might justify with another lie.
From there, my friends, it is a short step to authoritarianism and the death of American democracy. This Memorial Day must be a call to arms for every American honoring those who died to preserve our democratic liberties. They didn’t pay the ultimate price in war for a person or political party. They fell so the freedoms enshrined in U.S. Constitution could live on. It’s up to us to make sure they do. But the time for course-correction is now.
History beseeches us to learn from it before it’s too late. The domino effect of European democracies collapsing into authoritarianism and fascism in the twentieth century should teach us how easily it can happen. In On Tyranny, Yale historian Timothy Snyder cautions, “We might be tempted to think that our democratic heritage automatically protects us from such threats. This is a misguided reflex.” A large swath of America is already under the sway of dangerous demagogues who, like the fascists Snyder describes, “reject reason in the name of will” and deny “objective truth in favor of glorious myths articulated by leaders who claim to give voice to the people.”
Despite objective truths documenting how remarkably problem-free the 2020 election was, more than two-thirds of Republicans believe the myth, aggressively spread by the disgraced former president, that it was stolen. Four months after Trump supporters tried to violently overturn his loss at the Capitol, roughly half of Republican voters believe the myth that the siege was largely a non-violent protest (“normal tourist visit”) or was the handiwork of left-wing activists trying to make Trump look bad.
People willing to believe fiction over fact, warns Snyder, lean freely into authoritarianism. “You submit to tyranny,” he says, “when you renounce the difference between what you want to hear and what is actually the case.” Accepting untruths on a large scale signals a familiar decent into fascism. We’re in a very dangerous place.
E pluribus unum, out of many, one, is sadly obsolete in the United States. We are a nation divided, intolerant, hostile and utterly indifferent to the precipice we stand on. Survey the lonely tombstones decorated with small flags at the cemetery. Will you find one that says, “Here lies democracy”? I pray not for that would mean the sacrifices of so many Americans, united in freedom under one flag, have all been in vain.
Play taps for America.