The founding of American Democracy is often depicted by a painting by John Trumbull, an American artist of the early independence period. As with most gifted artists, we recognize their works, but their lives remain hidden.
Trumbull entered the 1771 junior class at Harvard college at age 15 and graduated in 1773. He lost the sight of one eye due to a childhood accident that influenced his detailed painting style. He was not only a gifted artist, but a patriot who served as a veteran and aide-de-camp to General George Washington. He witnessed the Battle of Bunker Hill that came to life in another of his paintings. For his service and renderings, he is heralded as the “Painter of the Revolution”.
His infamous painting of the Declaration of Independence (1817-1819), is one of his four paintings that hang in the United States Capital rotunda. The painting is a reminder to all Americans, and to the world, of America’s declaration to Democracy – a declaration that does not surface only every two or four years, but is ever present and integrally linked to our citizenry.
The Declaration of Independence painting depicts a group of men that we tend to think of as a collective noun – the same as when we think of our union. But in reality, they were quite diverse on many individual levels – not only intellectually but by age. Thomas Jefferson was 33 years old, John Hancock 39, Benjamin Franklin 70, James Monroe 18 and Alexander Hamilton 21. They had their own version of the Silent Generation, Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials, Gen Z and even Gen Alpha.
As with such artists and patriots, we tend to take their contributions to our Democracy for granted – as if Democracy will remain present and continue to last. We assume such a reality, often without pausing to critically question, “What if?” The question is not meant to be rhetorical, but was asked in real time on January 06, 2021. The violence, vileness and reasons continue to linger and soon will be on the ballot in 2024.
It is said that awareness is the first step towards appreciating and being consciously cognizant of what constitutes the ethos, essence and worth in our lives. That is, what is crucial to us – what we value – the veracity of our beliefs. It is said that awareness can motivate to seek the truth and can be the first step towards appreciation and reflecting with due diligence.
Perhaps it took New York born Lin-Manuel Miranda to bring to life what our history books fail to do. To provide awareness, appreciation and respect for the vision, mission and guiding principles of our Democracy . . . awareness that remind us of who we should be . . . become.
NO! The founding documents were not perfect. The reality of “equal but separate” still remain a work in progress. The seeds of Democracy were planted and left to us to protect and to nurture its germination, and regardless of attempts to destroy it, Democracy has remained persistent and resistant. It is our core, our essence, our spirit, the vital force of our existence.
Given our busier than busy lives, along with contrived political distractions, it is no wonder that we take for granted, not only our Democracy, but the quality of life that it provides. Namely, the life we live on a daily basis, that even during difficult at times, we wish to continue to be part of our reality, and for future generations. This is the sacred word, promise and gift we leave to all the children.
The problem with assuming that Democracy will remain on auto-pilot is that anti-democratic autocratic norms and attacks on our democracy did not start in 2016. They have been present pushing back on the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, Bill of Rights, Separation of Power, Diversity, Inclusivity, Equity and Rule of Law since America’s inception. Democracy’s resiliency and perseverance is not only remarkable, but the envy of the world given the constant assaults by internal and external autocratic forces.
Democracy has been under attack since it declared individual rights as inalienable. History provides the truth. The systematic forced relocations of native people, slavery, Jim Crow Laws, Race Science, Eugenics, Asian exclusion acts, Congressional Dillingham Anti Immigration Commission 1911 (41 volumes), KKK, White Supremacy, Domestic Terrorists and Hate Groups have challenged Democracy to the brink of its demise. And yet, still it perseveres and rises.
History has provided the warnings and alarm bells. World War II remains a blatant reminder of the cataclysmic anti-democratic inhumanity and multigenerational trauma that a pathological mad man and his enablers unleashed upon the world.
Nazi Germany did not happen based on one event between 1933-1945. The rise to power and its control was an insidiously engineered and calculated process. Nazism’s autocracy fostered the doctrines of racism, anti-Semitism, the delusion of a “master race”, divisionism, “Big-Lies”, diluting the rule of law requiring consolidation of power and brute force to eliminate all obstacles, resistance and opposition. The dismantling took place over years – norm by norm – institution by institution.
The alarm bells and warnings were ever present as the deafening “Heil Hitler” began to drown out the German voices of reason, intelligence, tolerance, empathy and common sense. Authoritarianism, cunningly and deceitfully, supplanted democratic principles until it consumed every aspect of social-cultural-political-religous German life.
The process involved relentless psychological droning of grievance politics, distractions, confusion, self-interest, greed, fear, rationalization, corruption and reverting to violent extremism.
It is difficult for us to make a connection between Germany of the 1930s and America in the 21st century. The barbaric horror of the Holocaust makes it seemingly impossible to identify parallel characteristics. But many German citizens believed – could not imagine – that their country would one day profess a pathological cataclysmic ideology. It could not happen in the land of Beethoven, Bach and Mendelssohn.
It was all too crazy and only meant to be believed by the “crazies.” Hitler and his enablers were considered to be clowns having their political day in the sun. Nazism would just fizzle away rather than become a psychopathic juggernaut.
Autocracy in 2023 is cloaked in different garbs, with different names, symbols, icons, rallies and media outlets. The coalition includes Domestic Terrorists, Insurrectionists, White Supremacists, Militia, Hate Groups, QAnon, Conspiracy Theorists and Alt-Right Extremists. They are mainstream using social media to recruit, radicalize and politicize. There is a language and narrative associated with the ideology that is ever present.
Clear-eyed awareness and focus is required to identify the daily narrative of an Autocracy in the making. It is not only what is says, but what it does. It is crucial that American citizens fully understand the tenets of an AUTOCRACY and its relationship to any one political party. This clarity must be in place before voting in every election.
What is the vision, mission and guiding tenets of an Autocracy?
The following are historical and current elements of an Autocracy.
Does any of it sound familiar?
- Offers grievance politics rather than problem solving. Remaining by choice and design detached and in denial of present realities of complex global problems in the 21st century.
- Resists change, refuting that the Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Bill of Rights, rule of law require ongoing authentication and amplification and applies to all equally.
- Makes constant use of patriotic mottos, slogans, symbols, rallies, songs and flags redefining such concepts as patriotism, nativism, populism, nationalism, what it means to be a true American, excluding others who are not so identified.
- Refuses to deal with historical truths but would rather revise, deflect, deceive and distort substantiated qualitative and quantitative historical truths.
- Refuses to acknowledge America’s legacy of overt-covert-aversive-systemic racism, xenophobia, sexism, White Supremacy, Domestic Terrorism and Extremism.
- Exhibits xenophobic tendencies by targeting LGBTQIA+ individuals and communities.
- Avoids terminology that reflects social-cultural-political-religious constructs, dismissing affinity groups, initialism and acronyms such as LGBTQIA+.
- Uses ‘heckler’s veto’ and “parents’ rights’ as a guise to advance rightwing – alt-right agendas and to dominate decision making in order to alter public school curriculum, subjects, content, suppress materials and teaching methods.
- Opposes critical thinking, investigative reporting, transparency and pursuit of the truth.
- Disrespects academia, intellectuals, critical qualitative/quantitative research, and the visual and performing arts with free expression openly attacked.
- Places blind faith in the next “Great White Hope Autocrat” as a symbol bringing back power, control, privilege and entitlements with Master Race Whiteness as the default standard.
- Demands blind loyalty to a despotic narcissistic leader regardless of the leader’s dysfunctional pathology, indictments, unethical conduct, lack of character and unprincipled history.
- Personalize and privatize relationships with other autocrats to satisfy personal ego, financial gains and needs.
- Never acknowledges, apologizes or takes responsibility for any wrongdoing regardless of being found guilty of unethical and immoral behavior including fraud, lying, and corruption.
- Promotes unsubstantiated accusations, innuendos, generalities and rumors in order to sway public opinion; avoiding proven facts substituting fabricated “altered facts” to create doubt.
- Negates all legislative accomplishments of opposing political party regardless of policies enhancing the quality of life of all citizens.
- Promotes and instigates fear mongering using crime and punishment to promote fear.
- Obstructs, restricts and suppresses voting rights by passing state legislation that impedes access, opportunities and freedom to cast a ballot.
- Uses gerrymandering to manipulate electoral boundaries and constituencies to favor autocratic party and candidates.
- Gains power and control at the ballot by promoting hybrid forms of Democracy in order to gain legislative power and control – once in power moves towards extreme alt right cancellation of democratic norms and rights.
- Switches parties once elected from Democratic/Independent to Republican in order to appease special interests and/or alt-right conservative political agendas.
- Rejects, denies and interferes with election results if the autocratic candidate loses regardless of litigated court decisions by judges and juries.
- Uses deception, lies, myths, bogus misinformation about [family-education-prior financial status-employment and life accomplishments] in order to fraudulently gain trust of potential voters and party officials.
- Resorts to domestic terrorism, insurrection and/or Martial law upon the loss of legal and justified elections, rejecting results regardless of verification, court of law determinations and proven results beyond doubt.
- Resorts to white supremacist tropes, fear mongering, intimidation, threats of violence by Alt-right extremists and by enablers remaining silent after acts of violence by White Supremacists, Domestic Terrorists, Militia Groups and Hate Group members.
- Uses social media platforms to promote and repeat ‘Big-Little Lies’ in order to feed misinformation that reinforces and promotes alternate facts.
- Disregards the rule of law if it does not favor or support the autocrat and political party.
- Favors a male-oriented dominated ideology and agenda suppressing divorce, abortion and women’s rights.
- Focuses on controlling the narrative of the media via censorship.
- Uses and intertwines religion and government if and when it favors maintaining power and control.
- Suppresses Labor Unions and their power to mobilize, negotiate and enhance work conditions and salaries.
- Resorts to cronyism, corruption, obstructing oversight and protective regulations, shutting down investigations and accountability.
- Uses nepotism to insulate and surround autocratic leader and party with family members and enablers in order to maintain status quo power and control.
A Democracy is the antithesis of an Autocracy and dependent on credibility and trust – requiring – insisting upon introspection, reflection, truth-telling and a commitment to its essence. Democracy takes work and intellectual rigor.
Democracy must be a reflection of who we say we are leaving a legacy of hope. Democracy enhances life rather than diminishing or extinguishing it.
Democracy is dynamic, audacious, bold and fearless in the pursuit of the truth. By its very nature it empowers and liberates its citizenry rather than suppressing them.
A Democracy does not hold its citizens hostage. There is an invisible prevailing undercurrent of selflessness in a Democracy that supersedes self importance. It is based on the reverence and respect for the human condition and enhancing the quality of life for future generations that we may not be privy to experience or witness.
“It is necessary to remember, as we think critically about domination, that we all have the capacity to act in ways that oppress, dominate, wound (whether or not that power is institutionalized). It is necessary to remember that it is first the potential oppressor within that we must resist – the potential victim within that we must rescue – otherwise we cannot hope for an end to domination, for liberation.”
bell hooks . . . Gloria Jean Watkins – (1952-2021) – Known by her pen name ‘bell hooks‘ – adopted from her maternal great-grandmother’s name as her pen name in lower case.