Now, Therefore Be It Resolved…

by Joel Bellman
Joel BellmanBy Joel Bellman

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Now, Therefore Be It Resolved…
Columnist Joel Bellman, who defines himself as a “short-term pessimist but long-term optimist,” declares Rescuing Democracy as his New Year’s Resolution. I’ve never been a big fan of New Year’s resolutions, even though they’re a nice idea in theory. Who doesn’t need a formal reason to adopt an aggressive self-improvement program, since most of us lack the discipline to initiate or maintain one on our own? But evidence suggests the idea always founders in practice. For one thing, various surveys consistently show that resolutions fail, and they fail quickly—usually by the second or third week of January, or if you’re extraordinarily determined, you might last as long the first or second week of February. Some 80-90% of those polled fail to keep their resolutions. For another, most resolutions are disappointingly prosaic, as well as unrealistic—lose a bunch of weight, exercise a lot, make more money, etc. Things that take patience, discipline, and demand some kind of strategy to carry out. Well, pre-pandemic I worked out at the gym 5-7 days a week for years, and it’s currently a steady 3-4 days a week of vigorous cardio alternating with a circuit of strength-training machines. I always watch what I eat. I get enough sleep. I still barely lose any weight. And as for making more money, fuggeddaboutit… So lacking both imagination and willpower, we still struggle on, insanely repeating the same behavior every January yet always hoping for a different result. But because I’m unwilling to let go entirely of the idea that we can improve ourselves, that things can get better—and because I’m a short-term pessimist but a long-term optimist—I’m making a different kind of resolution this year. Not striving for another unrealistic goal, but vowing to always and consistently uphold a principle, the most important one I know. The principle is American democracy, and it’s a journey, not a destination; a process, not a result. The American Constitution was drafted to constrain government with checks and balances, and a separation of powers into three distinct branches—and to liberate the people by protecting their sovereign rights. These include certain specifically enumerated rights like freedom of speech, religion, and the press, a right to keep and bear arms (within some legislative and judicial limits), to avoid self-incrimination and cruel and unusual punishment, and to get a fair and speedy trial. And in the Ninth Amendment of the Bill of Rights, even our “unenumerated” rights not otherwise spelled out are also protected (“the enumeration…of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others”), which in theory ought to further expand our freedom. What we have seen, however, is exactly the opposite—a clear trend of concerted legislative activity, driven by a numerically small and politically unrepresentative Republican minority, to codify as widely as possible the actual denial and disparagement of any rights that would threaten the existing power structure. And so, after 48 years, it looks like women are about to lose their constitutional right under Roe v. Wade to terminate their pregnancies. The Brennan Center For Justice, a nonpartisan law and policy institute at the NYU School of Law, reported in October that this year, 19 states have enacted 33 laws aimed at interfering with people’s right to vote. And the Center minced no words about their motives: “The 2020 federal election drew the United States’ highest voter turnout in more than a century, breaking records despite the COVID-19 pandemic and efforts to undermine the election process with the Big Lie of a stolen election. “In a backlash to this historic voter participation, many state lawmakers have proposed and enacted legislation to make it harder for Americans to vote, justifying these measures with falsehoods steeped in racism about election irregularities and breaches of election security.” The report does note that while 25 states have also enacted 62 laws aimed at making it easier to vote, the comparison is misleading: in states where voting was already hard, it got harder, and where it was already relatively easy, it got easier still, a net loss for wider democratic voting participation. Now consider this: according to an early analysis by a pair of University of Chicago researchers of those arrested in the January 6 insurrection, they were 94% White, 86% male, 85% employed, and more than half came from counties where Trump had lost to Biden, counties that were more racially mixed with higher unemployment. A classic case of what author Barbara Ehrenreich way back in 1989 called “fear of falling”—out of political power, out of the middle class, out of cultural relevance. And to put it starkly, the empire of the fearful white patriarchy is striking back, and they mean to cling to their power, as the saying goes,“by any means necessary”—restrictive laws, courts stripping away our rights, violent insurrection, and a relentless right-wing media propaganda barrage of Orwellian proportions. I asked myself the old JFK question: “What can I do for my country?” And so to my resolution: “Participatory democracy, civil rights, social and economic justice, and responsible stewardship of our global environment are under a sustained and virtually unprecedented multi-pronged assault from those conspiring to maintain their political and economic control at any cost. I hereby resolve to rededicate myself to promoting, protecting, and advancing democracy and wider political participation—in writing and working, in debate and discussion, in teaching and advocating, in voting and volunteering.” Now what are you prepared to do to rescue our democracy?
Joel Bellman

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December 24, 2021