Tuesday, July 4, 2017

U.S. democracy is fragile, could be lost -- a pessimistic July 4th message

I grew up during World War II and its aftermath, a period of patriotic cohesion and cooperation that we don't have today.    Back then, despite the fear and real risks of losing that war, I never doubted the solidity of our democracy.   The Constitution was this inviolable rock that would weather any attack, any storm -- even a civil war fought against other Americans.   Even then the Constitution brought us back together.

That is what formed my confidence -- or, rather, what kept me from ever doubting that democracy would endure.   I'm not so sure anymore.    Democracy is under attack from without -- by Russia;   and from within -- by our own president, who seems to have little respect for it, and who tries to violate it when it thwarts his autocratic impulses.

What makes these times so fraught is that there may be some connection between the attack from without and the one from within, i.e. Russia and Trump.  The possibility of collusion is being investigated by the most unassailable, dedicated seeker of truth that could have been picked, Robert Mueller.    There's some comfort in that . . . as long as Trump refrains from firing him.  But let's look at what we face.

Sen. John McCain, who paid his patriotism dues in a Viet Nam prison cell, wrote an essay that USA Today published.  McCain begins:
"Vladimir Putin’s Russia is on the offensive against Western democracy. Russia invaded Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014. Russia attacked America’s 2016 election, attempted to interfere in France’s 2017 election, and is expected to do the same in German and other future European elections."
McCain then describes "the most disturbing indication of Putin's violent ambitions in October 2016 in the small Balkan country of Montenegro."  This was a plot by Russian intelligence operatives to overthrow the democratically elected government and murder its prime minister.

Why did Putin care about such a small country?   McCain points out that Montenegro, once part of the Russian sphere of influence, was now pursuing European Union and NATO membership.   It is also strategically located for a desired Russian naval base, and 40% of real estate is owned by Russian oligarchs.  Sound familiar?  (Crimea and Ukraine)

Fortunately the coup failed because one of the Serbian co-plotters got cold feet and backed out.   But, as details played out in the resulting court case, it showed how far Russia was willing to go and what lessons we Americans need to learn.

Russia was not plotting a direct attack.  The plot involved a campaign to destabilize the people's confidence in their government.  [We're already there, with Trump attacking congress, the judiciary, the press, plus making a mockery of the presidency.]  Then on election day in Montenegro, they would stage an attack by men wearing police uniforms, leading groups of protesters to storm parliament and declare victory for the opposition.  [In the US, substitute cyberattacks for police attacks.] 

Within 48 hours, a new Montenegro government would be formed and the existing officials arrested and thrown in jail.  [Our election outcome was certainly a surprise, even to the Trump camp itself.  We have proof of hacking and using the info for negative campaign ads against Clinton;  but we have no proof yet of tampering in the voting process.]  There was even a possible plan to hire American, private security guards for the Montenegro election day, which would provide the possibility of blaming the whole thing on the guards, and thus on America.  McCain concludes:  
"This heinous plot should be a warning to every American that we cannot treat Russia’s interference in our 2016 election as an isolated incident. We have to stop looking at this through the warped lens of politics and see this attack on our democracy for what it is: just one phase of Putin’s long-term campaign to weaken the United States, to destabilize Europe, to break the NATO alliance, to undermine confidence in Western values, and to erode any and all resistance to his dangerous view of the world. . . .  
"It won’t be long before Putin takes interest in another American election. . . .  We must take our own side in this fight — not as Republicans, not as Democrats, but as Americans. The Senate passed strong new sanctions against Russia this month by an overwhelming 97-2 vote. I hope the House will delay no further, send this bill to the president, and send a message to Vladimir Putin that America will stand strong in defense of our democracy."
This is a carefully crafted and strategically timed message from the Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.  Will it be heeded by President Trump this Friday when he has his one-to-one meeting with Vladimir Putin?   Is he up to the task?    Or does he care?   Is he part of Putin's long-range plot?

Think what this could mean if Putin has some financial or scandalous hold over Trump.    That's what I mean by the connection between the threat to our democracy both from without and within.    Is Trump president as part of Putin's grand scheme?  Is he being blackmailed?   How much danger is our democracy really in?

We cannot afford, as a people or as political parties, to be divided, especially now.   The suspicions of "collusion with Russia" may turn out to be nothing.  But we don't know.   If it is as dire as our worst fears, this could turn out to be the greatest threat to the survival of democracy we have ever faced.  If we are divided, we will lose.  Trump seems to be doing everything he can to drive the wedge in, to divide us even more.

So, on July 4, 2017, I am not in a celebratory mood.   I don't know what can boost us out of this pit we have sunk into -- back up into a united nation.  We had it in WWII.   We had it for a while post-9/11.   How do we get it back, especially without a leader who wants to unite us, rather than pick petty fights?  Donald Trump is not the uniting leader we so badly need.


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