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Welcome to the end of democracy

| April 11, 2024 12:00 AM

“Welcome to the end of democracy. We are here to overthrow it completely,” said conservative activist Jack Posobiec at the February 2024 meeting of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). To which Steve Bannon, former Trump advisor said, “Amen.” 

Well, maybe they were just kidding, but let’s pretend they weren’t. After all, America is the birthplace of modern democracy, and we’ve got a lot invested in it.

There was the Revolutionary War in which a bunch of colonial rebels took on the most powerful nation in the world with the biggest navy and a disciplined army and beat them into submission to create a new political system — a democracy. Then there was the American Civil War where Americans fought other Americans for four years so that, in Lincoln’s words; “…Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” In that war more American servicemen were killed than in all other wars Americans fought in — combined.

World War I wasn’t really a war to preserve democracy but it did hasten the end of a couple of undemocratic monarchies, but World War II was unmistakably fought to prevent totalitarian dictators from taking over the world. And after dictators had been brought to their knees and the war-torn countries of Asia and Europe were in a shambles physically, economically, and socially, then what did Americans do?

We rebuilt them so that they would not fall into the clutches of communism and would continue to function as representative democracies. We did those things. And we paid the price with American labor and American ingenuity and American ideals and American blood. A lot of American blood.

Maybe that’s just being sentimental, but I like to think it’s important.

But why kill democracy? There are some people who have what they think are pretty good reasons, let’s dispense with Russia’s Putin and China’s Xi first. They want to destroy democracy anywhere because it’s a threat to totalitarian rule, which they both enjoy. 

There are those who look at democracy as a system that favors people they differ from, these are the people who are targeted by the “let’s you and them fight” crowd which pits immigrants against native born, whites against blacks, you name it, in any combination so long as it gets Americans angry enough to want someone in their corner and only in their corner, while the “influencers” sit back and reap the political rewards. This group looks at democracy as a finite good, meaning that if there is more for you there is less for me. That’s not the case, there’s enough for everyone.

The words “All men are created equal” in our Constitution was not a fact then, when only property owing white males could vote. It’s still not a fact, but it is still a dream, it is still a goal. It is, as I have heard said, like reaching for the stars.

Democracy is not like a carving that you can hold in your hand and say, “There, it’s finished.” Democracy is a process, a way to achieve the common good and someone is always going to be shorted a little here and gain a little there. It’s a process where the only thing you have to agree on is the rightness of the process itself, that it is the best way to resolve differences. It is the rightness of the New England town meetings we were taught to revere in our early education. That was direct democracy, now we elect people to represent us, and there are plenty of problems with that, but there is enough good in the system to keep it in place.

Those Americans who lived through the Great Depression, who lived through World War II, knew that they needed to help one another, sometimes just to make it through the day. They didn’t complain, they didn’t get angry, they didn’t feel sorry for themselves. They were united in their belief that democracy would prevail. They are almost all gone now, and it is our job to take up the battle to preserve what they believed in.

Jim Elliott served 16 years in the Montana Legislature as a state representative and state senator. He lives on his ranch in Trout Creek.