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Rosenblum writes: "Americans who take democracy for granted need to understand how fragile it can be."

Chris Christie. (photo: Julio Cortez/AP)
Chris Christie. (photo: Julio Cortez/AP)

Do-It-Yourself Democracy

By Mort Rosenblum, Reader Supported News

18 January 21


UCSON – Chris Christie, one of Donald Trump’s countless discarded Kleenexes, declared the obvious. “If insurrection isn’t impeachable, I don’t know what is.” Liz Cheney, whose hardline Republican roots run deep, echoed that in stirring terms.

The Capitol assault was no bozo Bastille. America called 911, and no one came. “We came close to half the House nearly dying,” Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said afterward. She feared Republican colleagues would direct insurgents to Democrats’ hideouts.

When the teargas cleared and Congress resumed certifying votes, Cheney declared: “There has never been a greater betrayal by a President of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution.”

Everything, she said, was Trump’s doing: “[He] summoned this mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack. Everything that followed was his doing. None of this would have happened without the President. The President could have immediately and forcefully intervened to stop the violence. He did not.”

Yet only a handful a Republicans voted to impeach. Others aimed their wrath at Cheney, not Trump, and sought to remove her as their caucus chair. Polls show that two-thirds of Americans who voted for reelection would do it again.

Ten days later, the enormity of it is sinking in. At one point, The Washington Post reported, a group chanting “Hang Mike Pence” missed seeing the vice president by 60 seconds as the Secret Service spirited him away.

The world watched for hours as thousands overran police, killing one and battering others in a superpower that spends $720 billion a year on “defense.” When the National Guard finally moved in, most had gone, high-fiving and plotting their next move.

Top level officials declined to brief the nation, but reporters pieced together what happened. Mayor Muriel Bowser wanted to protect the Capitol but could only send local police. In Washington, the Pentagon commands the National Guard. Troops were deployed to direct traffic and in the Metro.

Governors of nearby states made urgent, repeated calls to offer Guard units that could have blocked access to the Capitol and arrested assault leaders in flagrante while evidence was fresh, with firsthand witnesses. Generals declined, wary of “the optics.”

Those “optics” will be far worse on Wednesday to a stunned world. America, which symbolized open, unassailable democracy, plans to inaugurate a president shielded by 21,000 armed troops and barricades that make Washington look like Baghdad in 2003.

The institutions held firm, and a second impeachment has a strong chance of barring Trump from public office. But last week presaged a smoldering civil war, likely to flare out of control if enough citizens do not stamp out the embers.

I keep flashing back to the presidential inauguration I covered in 1964 on a break from school to work at the Caracas Daily Journal. Steeped in Latin-America history, with its constant coups and endemic corruption, I was ready for anything.

Venezuela’s first democratic succession was a textbook triumph. Unguarded, Raúl Leoni addressed cheering masses from the Miraflores Palace balcony. A few of us reporters who slipped out behind him worried about snipers. He didn’t.

For mostly internal reasons but also because of the world around it, Venezuela is what it is today. Americans who take democracy for granted need to understand how fragile it can be.

Our public schools, crippled over decades, have produced a cohort of ignoramuses who believe big lies if repeated with crowd-stirring bombast. An entrenched oligarchy exploits this to amass fortunes. Mitch McConnell’s approach to party fealty has been the Republican norm since 2007.

Moronic letters to newspapers absolve Trump and his militias of any blame. One in the Tucson daily called Twitter an anti-conservative “master of deceit” and excoriated other platforms for blocking Parler, which the writer called a legitimate outlet for dissent.

Here are a few recent Parler posts:

  • “We need to act like our forefathers and Kill Black and Jewish people (and) Leave no survivors or victims.”

  • “After the firing squads with the politicians the teachers are next.”

  • “Shoot the police that protect these shitbag senators and then make the senator grovel a bit before capping they ass.”

One Parler post, claiming plans were afoot for a “newsworthy event,” said on Jan. 20 that patriots should start “systematicly” assassinating liberal leaders, liberal activists, BLM leaders and supporters, mainstream media anchors, correspondents and Antifa.

That Tucson letter-writer asserted that Democrats want a one-party dictatorship, ending with a line that reflected our larger challenge: “The American people are forced to learn ‘globalism’ to survive.” That is, we have to live in the real world.

Previous Mort Reports detail worsening crises beyond our borders while America is occupied by trying not to tear itself apart. Republican legislators displayed paralyzing ignorance of global complexities during the House impeachment debate.

Deadly pathogens are the new normal. Climatic calamity outstrips earlier dire predictions. China is muscling us aside. Russia cites America to pronounce democracy dead. Terrorist groups thrive. The “Abraham Accords,” hardly Middle East peace, deepens enmity that imperils Israel. North Korea and Iran now pose far greater threats.

First ridiculed, then widely despised, America has lost its ability to set moral standards in a world that needs them more by the month.

Faced with this, Joe Biden must restore a collapsed economy, halt a plague that kills 4,000 people a day, and quell an insurgency as overworked federal agents hunt down people who should have been arrested when they breached the Capitol perimeter.

The French do a lot of things wrong, but riot police have learned since 1968 how to keep demonstrations from exploding out of control. For “optics,” they hang back out of sight. But at the first sign of violence, they swarm in and herd agitators into paddy wagons.

Their intelligence misses some impending threats. France takes liberté seriously and resists locking up people for what they might do before they do it. But they have an advantage. France’s hunters keep arms but not assault rifles that blast game to smithereens.

In America, a hodgepodge of local, state and federal law enforcement agencies is beyond control. Egged on by Trump, murderous mavericks within their ranks endanger not only citizens but also the thumping majority of good cops trying to do their jobs.

A day before the assault, insurgent leaders toured the Capitol with helpful uniformed police pointing out its warren of chambers and passageways to goons in Halloween getup who were plainly not run-of-the-mill tourists.

A widely circulated photo shows one Capitol cop shepherding a small group of thuggish-looking costumed louts, including that deviant from Phoenix in buffalo horns and body paint. We don’t know why, but Democratic legislators promise to find out.

The menace was clear. Before the Jan. 6 session to confirm the vote, one Democrat told her husband where to find her will. One told his kids not to watch from the gallery. Another wore sneakers. Body armor is a legitimate expense for members of Congress.

Evan Osnos captured the mood in The New Yorker. Since 9/11, he noted, the Capitol has been ringed with security, but last Wednesday any sense of control was gone. A few excerpts:

“The mob quickly overwhelmed the police, broke windows, and forced open doors … They rummaged through drawers and brandished their loot for photographers. A man in a wool Trump hat, with a pom-pom on it, and a rictus of glee, carried off a carved wooden podium bearing the seal of the Speaker of the House …

“I introduced myself to a hopped-up guy walking away from the Senate side of the Capitol, and he said, ‘The New Yorker? Fucking enemy of the people. Why don’t I smash you in your fucking head?’ He made an effort to draw a crowd: ‘Right there in the blue mask! Enemy of the fucking people!’ But the people had other things on their minds, and nobody bothered to join in. Five years after the Trump era began, a physical assault on American democracy felt both shocking and inevitable — a culmination of everything that had been building since 2015.”

True, it is a different America. It is now politically charged to say “on both sides” but some new legislators, Democrats as well as Republicans, overdo rhetoric. Democracy needs decorum and compromise. But simple fiery speech is different from rebellion.

Take Rep. Lauren Boebert, 34, who packs a sidearm, as waitresses and most customers do at her Shooters Grill in Rifle, Colorado. She supports QAnon and insurrection. Her campaign posters were emblazoned: “FREEDOM.” Roger Cohen tried to interview her for The New York Times, but she had him ejected from the café.

“That’s what freedom may look like in a second Trump term,” he wrote, “more the my-way-or-the-highway muzzle of a Glock than the liberty enshrined by the Constitution and the rule of law.”

Boebert is still trying. She declared Jan. 6 would be “the Republicans’ 1776” and told the House: “Members who … accept the results of this concentrated, coordinated, partisan effort by Democrats — where every fraudulent vote canceled out the vote of an honest American — have sided with the extremist left.” She promises to demand Biden’s impeachment on Jan. 21.

Six days later, she railed at Capitol police who tried to search her bag when her Glock set off an alarm. She stormed past the metal detector along with several other Republicans. Screening, she said, was just another political stunt by Nancy Pelosi.

As any veteran diplomat or correspondent can attest, this sort of blind zealotry is deadly to democracy if unchecked. As the rule of law wanes, institutions crumble. Faithless legislators and public servants need to be hounded out of office — fast.

The 14th Amendment is clear: senators, representatives or other public servants who swear an oath cannot hold any office if they “shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against [the United States] or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof.”

On Jan. 6, Republicans repeatedly evoked Abraham Lincoln despite flouting the principles of his Grand Old Party. They called for unity and forgiveness to move forward as they said old Honest Abe would have counseled.

We don’t know how Lincoln might have dealt with today’s crippling impasse. While he sat watching a play, a do-it-yourself dissident with a pistol sneaked up and altered the course of history, as a lynch mob tried to do last week.

Trump’s creeping coup d’état fizzled. Prosecutors circle like sharks as his business empire tanks. Lenders and funders shun him. Twitter, along with other social media, has muzzled him. But his cultists, armed and crazed, aren’t going away.

The shock of last week’s insurrection could jolt America back towards sanity. If not, there is no shortage of wannabe authoritarians eager for a shot at elections in 2024.

Chris Christie chastised Obama in 2011 for saying Republicans thwarted him at every turn: “I mean, cry me a river. Lead and do your job.” Obama finally did with executive orders. That set a precedent for Trump’s fiat by tweet. And here we are today.

Mort Rosenblum has reported from seven continents as Associated Press special correspondent, edited the International Herald Tribune in Paris, and written 14 books on subjects ranging from global geopolitics to chocolate. He now runs

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