How A Democracy Dies

Thumbnail photo: President-elect Donald Trump with House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) at the U.S. Capitol on Nov. 10, 2016. Zach Gibson, Getty Images.

This is how a democracy dies. Take a step back and look at where this country is at right now: separating children from families, using immigration officials as a political arm of the government, preventing people from even travelling to the country, raging against abortion clinics, laughing along with others as the president mocks sexual assault survivors, the disabled, the sick, and the dead, being the laughing stock at the United Nations and persecuting members of racial minorities and members of the LGBT community. What have we come to? We fight by protesting or by voting “no” in Congress, and then we lay down and let the policies roll over us.

One of the first big events that occurred just after Donald Trump’s inauguration as president was the Women’s March. Trump’s rhetoric on women, as well as his sexual misconduct, drove an estimated five million people around the world out to protest sexism and advocate for women’s rights. And then the protest was over.

In the first 100 days of his presidency, Trump allowed construction of major oil pipelines, began planning a physical barrier along the Mexico-U.S. border and filled a Supreme Court vacancy left by the late Justice Antonin Scalia. There was outrage for each action. Environmental activists, immigration activists and others opposing a conservative on the high court raised their voices, protested and even filed lawsuits. And then we didn’t hear about those specific issues anymore.

Then came everything else: a new tax code, repeal of select provisions of the Affordable Care Act, immigration detentions, travel bans, the Iran nuclear deal, erosion of LGBT rights and character attacks on everyone from U.S. senators to sexual assault survivors. For a while, we heard the outrage from mainstream media critics and activists alike, but eventually, everything died down.

This is the nature of desensitization. We see it with issues like gun control or the environment. There will be strong criticism from the media, from politicians and from the public, and then we simply give up on fighting. The Dakota Access pipeline? Finished. The immigration ban on select nations? Still in effect. A border barrier? Still being planned. Immigration detentions—happening. Attacks on LGBT and women’s rights—have you heard of the transgender ban in the military or the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court?

Sure, we still oppose these policies, but the public has given up. As soon as this administration, this Congress enacts a policy against the basic principles of democracy or against the sanctity of human rights, opposition politicians, the media and the public give up. “There’s nothing we can do,” we think. There are lawsuits, verbal criticism and action before a policy is enacted, but once it is rolled out, we instinctively look for the next thing. We never stay on the previous thing.

This is the state of our republic: the presidency, the legislature and the judiciary all controlled by members of the same archaic, extreme ideology. Now that this group has control of all three branches of government, what isn’t possible? Voter ID laws, gerrymandering, tangible reversals of LGBTQ rights, crackdowns on criminalized drugs and the reversal of the decision on Roe v. Wade are all on the horizon. This is how a democracy dies.

The United States will see another two years of this presidency. We can protest all we want, but without a change in at least one branch of government, the most vulnerable communities are doomed at the hands of a personalist regime, one in which the regime’s supporters simply support the government not because of policies rolled out, but because of the character of one person. There is nothing that can change our course now except the unique right to vote. But who am I to expect that right will be exercised?