Democracy must be defended - Keith Roulston editorial
How you feel about the state of democracy these days largely depends on whether you are a “glass half full” or “glass half empty” sort of person.
Take the current hot spot of Myanmar. The military seized power and ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi in Feb. 1 a coup, charging her with crimes and imprisoning her. Though she’s lost much of her international lustre since she won the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize because of charges of genocide committed against the Rohingya Muslim minority, she’d won a landslide victory in last November’s election.
That’s the “half empty” part of the story. More optimistically, enough citizens of Myanmar have been willing to fight for democracy that they take to the street every week. Even though more than 550 people have been killed and nearly 3,000 have been arrested by military leaders determined to quell the demonstrations, people risk their lives to defend democracy.
The situation is reminiscent of Hong Kong where the Chinese government reneged on its treaty to allow democratic government of the former British colony to continue until 2050 and cracked down on those demonstrating against the move. Despite the odds against them, the supporters of democracy kept demonstrating for months, until most of their leaders were jailed. There’s been a price paid by China, however, as $40 billion has been transferred to Canadian banks by Hong Kong residents.
It’s easy to be depressed about the state of democracy in countries like Hungary where Premier Viktor Orbán has been dismantling democratic institutions since he came to power 10 years ago and next door in Poland where under Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, free speech has been restricted, the country’s court system has been brought under the control of the leader and state television networks have become purveyors of government propaganda.
But the situation that worries Canadian lovers of democracy most lies just across our southern border. Former U.S. President Donald Trump had claimed from before the election campaign even began that the only way he could lose was if the Democratic Party stole the election. Despite his loyal following, many Americans disagreed with Trump’s autocratic tendencies. Worried that democracy was in danger, they were determined to make sure they did their part not to let it happen. Whether by lining up at the polls to cast their vote, voting at early polls or using mail-in ballots, more Americans voted than in any election since 1900. I’m still inspired by pictures of people waiting hours for their chance to cast their ballot.
The threat to democracy isn’t over. With that huge turnout, more people voted for Trump than in 2016 – just not enough because millions more voted for Joe Biden. Not wanting to relinquish the presidency, Trump claimed wide-spread voter fraud but despite appealing to the courts more than 60 times, was unable to show proof. Still, his supporters believed his lie.
Desperate to cling to power, Trump tried to get Republicans in various state legislatures to simply throw out the results and name Trump-supporting delegates to the college of electors. When that didn’t work, he pressed Mike Pence, his vice-president who is chair of the Senate, to simply refuse to accept the vote of the college of electors. When Pence didn’t, he became one of the targets of a pro-Trump mob that smashed its way into the U.S. Capitol building to prevent the confirmation of Biden’s election.
Today, the biggest threat to American democracy is that too many members of the Republican Party have sold their souls to the cult of Trump. They continue to promote Trump’s voter fraud lie and are using that phony argument as an excuse to make it harder to vote, particularly for those more likely to support the Democrats, like Blacks and other minorities.
It looks bleak these days, but the same determination to save democracy that made people line up for hours last November may fuel democracy-loving Americans to find a way to vote no matter how much Republicans may try to prevent them exercising their rights. Would Canadians fight so hard?
I recently finished reading a book about a Canadian bomber pilot, part of the “Greatest Generation” who sacrificed their youth to defend democracy in World War II. He and 12 friends growing up in Sudbury all joined the Air Force. Nine of the 13 gave their lives.
The book’s author was shot down, but was smuggled back to England by democracy-loving French Underground members, many of whom were eventually executed by the Nazis.
The lesson of these freedom fighters, along with demonstrators risking their lives in Myanmar and elsewhere and those Americans working so hard to vote, is that democracy is worth fighting for. We need to prize it and exercise our right to vote.