As the last century began, few could imagine a world without empires or monarchs. The generation that followed could not imagine global economic collapse or the rise of fascism. The horror of the Holocaust was an beyond the the conception of most before it happened.
In our lifetimes, the idea of the quiet collapse of the Soviet Union was unthinkable as were the people power revolutions that followed. All this is apart from the consequences of the shocks and surprises induced by technology.
All this is to say that the limits of our imaginations do not define what is possible in this world, they don’t define the lifespans of the truth we so often take to be eternal. Ask a Russian schooled in the dark mythology of Soviet communism.
While some massive changes can be foreseen–the rise of China, the demographic transformation in the U.S., the onset of the climate crisis–there are many others that we cannot predict or indeed, that we have been led to believe could never happen.
We assume that America as we have known it will always endure, that it will always be democratic, that it will always seek to perfect itself, that our Constitution and the good will of our people will protect the idea of our country and the ideals to which it has long aspired.
But we must learn the lessons of the past shocks of history. On this earth, everything is ephemeral. Life itself on the planet is not sustainable if we do not care for our environment. And America and our democracy can cease to exist in the blinking of an eye.
All it requires is for us to take for granted what we have, to assume that the corrupt or the malevolent or our enemies at home and abroad are doomed to fail, that our shields against them will hold. But we need to open our eyes.
This country was founded based on the principle that no man is above the law. We rejected a king who placed himself there. We created a system designed to reject those who would assert such authority, but even as our founders established that system, they warned it could fail.
They warned of despots and tyrants and those who exploit high position to accumulate power and wealth that would place them beyond the reach of the people. And today, their bleakest warnings have come true.
We have a president who wrongly asserts Article II of the Constitution gives him the power to do whatever he wants. We have an attorney general who argues a president cannot be indicted and beyond that, only a president can determine whether what a president does is wrong.
We have an administration that rejects the checks and balances in the Constitution, the idea that the presidency and the Congress are co-equal and thereby they reject the Constitutional check associated with impeachment. We have Senators who sneeringly dismiss their obligations to the Constitution, to their constituents, to their oaths and to justice. And if a president cannot be indicted & he can determine his own guilt or innocence and if the Congress can be stifled in its inquiries into the president and if his allies can protect him from conviction, then we have already crossed the line, we already have placed a man, our president, above the law. And if, in a few months, the courts–packed with partisan justices–begin to carve away at the protections our founders wrote into our laws, democracy is further at risk.
And if that president and his supporters and enablers in the Senate and the courts clear the way for foreign interference in our elections, if they fail to protect the most fragile organs of our electoral system, then what we will soon have is a shadow of the America we all assumed would always survive, of the system of government we thought would always be a beacon onto the world, one that although flawed would regularly overcome and gradually eliminate those defects.
We might be months away from the death of a 243 year old dream. We might have already passed the point of no return. We might awake one day as we did with the Soviet Union or Jews in Germany did as their old lives were obliterated and ask “where did it all go?”
We will shake our heads and say, “I never thought it was possible.” But it will be too late.
Or we can recognize there is a real possibility of catastrophe. We can identify the forces that are working to making it so and the threat they pose to us all and to our founders’ legacy.
And we can work against them–all of them, not just their evil clownish frontman Trump, but all those who have been setting these changes in motion for decades–with the kind of urgency that this situation and these stakes demand.
When you look to 2020, recognize how pivotal this year might be and that elections alone may not be enough to preserve what we cherish. Recognize that action, taking to the streets, law suits, supporting Congressional measures, raising awareness, will also be called for.
No one is too small to make a difference. Everyone must sound the alarm and share the sense that we either act now or we lose that which we once thought could never be undone, would never be at risk.