THE VOICE OF DEMOCRACY
A Tribute to Heather Cox Richardson
On September 15, 2021, Heather Cox Richardson posted a letter on her popular Substack blog, Letters from an American, about how the project was born and expressed her gratitude to her readers for their support.
"I write these letters because I love America," she stated in part. "I am staunchly committed to the principle of human self-determination for people of all races, genders, abilities, and ethnicities, and I believe that American democracy could be the form of government that comes closest to bringing that principle to reality. And I know that achieving that equality depends on a government shaped by fact-based debate rather than by extremist ideology and false narratives . . . But I have come to understand that I'm simply the translator for the sentiments shared by hundreds of thousands of people who are finding each other and giving voice to the principles of democracy. Your steadfast interest, curiosity, critical thinking, and especially your kindness--to me and to one another--illustrates that we have not only the power, but also the passion to reinvent our nation."
The post evoked a flood of reader responses reflecting the power and passion of her writing. Richardson has a way of inspiring readers to participate, to think, to write back in response to the issues she raises and to join the chorus of We, the People, singing the great song of Democracy. I acknowledged in my own response to her beautiful letter how I admired the way she continues to stand up for democracy in the face of a fascist assault unprecedented in American history, also noting how the legacy of the lone, self-sufficient individual (most likely a Reagan Republican) riding off into the sunset, drags on, as does what Lewis Mumford called the predatory corporate "megamachine," the capitalist industrial regime that's destroying the planet.
Richardson's writing of late has focused primarily on the shenanigans
of the Trump factions of the Republican Party and their efforts to under-mine democracy. The confrontations have produced some of Richardson's finest work and evoked a deluge of passionate reactions from readers. On October 13, 2021, for example, 206 House Republicans voted to default on the measure to raise the debt ceiling.
In response Richardson wrote "The debt ceiling needs to be raised not to pay for future spending, but for past spending, including the $7.8 trillion the Republicans put on the national tab during the four years of the Trump presidency." She also pointed out, that in addition to increasing the power of the federal government over the states to protect civil rights, the Fourteenth Amendment protects the sanctity of the national debt. As the Constitution declares, "The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned."
The response from readers was visceral, conveying the sentiment that elected officials who are willing to sacrifice the common welfare of their nation for the sake of a duplicitous, disgraced former president are not fit to hold public office in a democracy and should be removed, all 206 of them. Jack Lippman pointed out in his comment that the "Fourteenth Amendment either means what it says or we should rip up the whole document to which it is appended . . . and start over." "Exactly," commented Diane Love, "Where is the enforcement of our constitutional rights and obligations? Do our laws have any meaning if there are no consequences for breaking them? Are white Republicans exempt from the laws of our land? Has Democratic leadership become frozen in the headlights?" "And here is the problem," concluded Joseph Nemeth. "Who will hold them accountable? The President cannot, by design. The courts cannot, by design. The only entity to which they are accountable is 'the people,' and they have gone mad."
A sense of betrayal and outrage continued to permeate the comment thread and on October 20, 2021, Richardson quoted excerpts from an eloquent October 19 speech by Senator Angus King (I-ME): "Destiny has placed us here at one of history's fateful moments. Our response to it will be our most important legacy," King said in part. "I believe we all know our responsibility and whether we like it or not, history will record whether we, each of us, meets our responsibility." History did indeed record the failure of Senate Republicans to meet their responsibilities to the American people, as well as the Constitution, by voting to block the People's right to vote, demonstrating instead their loyalty to a man who contends, against all evidence, that he is still president of the United States. In a country that honors the rule of law, these people would be considered criminals and they would have been arrested and prosecuted. But no meaningful action ensued and it appears, so far, that the legacy of Senator King's "fateful moment" is not a step forward toward freedom and justice, but instead the full realization that the legal system is a joke, another racket run by the ruling class to disempower an electorate yearning for democracy. This is a revolutionary moment if ever there was one and now we will soon see if "we will lose our identity as a people," as Senator King feared, victims of the Republican faction that Berry M (ME) calls "the prevailing rats nest of evil."
As Peter Burnett wrote, the founding fathers were men of honor and "could not have conceived of a society like ours, in which there's no longer even honor among thieves." Is our legacy to be a society that no longer values the virtues of compassion, honesty, and honor and that allows itself to be held hostage by a cabal of Republican gangsters who will do anything to hold on to power? I doubt that the stalwart Mainers I know think so. Richardson's writings inspire thousands of readers from around the world and a considerable number hail from Maine where Letters from an American has become a literary sensation. One Maine resident who shares a love for democracy with Richardson is her friend, the celebrated photographer Peter Ralston, who wrote this passionate response to Senator King's remarks. "Angus King is SO on the right side of history in the mind of this Mainer. No surprise. I am going to take his current remarks, incorporate them into a brief cover letter and send it to every paper I can think of. These specific words of his will be chiseled into the history of our (great but flawed) experiment in democracy while the collective sewage emanating from
ALL the low lifers parroting Trump will be noted, documented )and hopefully prosecuted, if appropriate) an ultimately evaporate like the swamp gas it is."
What accounts for the fighting democratic spirit of Maine residents like Ralston and Richardson? Is it the bright, clean air of Acadia that infuses the atmosphere with inspiration? Or is it just a matter of old fashioned Yankee character? Whatever the reasons, with Mainers like these two on the case, democracy might just have a chance. The storm of controversy surrounding the Trump Republicans' efforts to destroy American democracy has even provoked the ire of some Republicans who have decided to stand up for Democracy and repudiate the actions of the miscreants within the Party. Representative Liz Cheney, (R-AZ), for example, appalled by the reactionary behavior of her colleagues asked on the floor of the House of Representatives recently, "Will we defend our Constitution? Will we stand for the truth? Will we put our duty to our oath above partisan politics? Or will we look away from the danger, ignore the threat, embrace the lies and enable the liar?" The majority of her Republican colleagues have answered Cheney with their actions, which are recorded in the public record for anyone to see. These vigilante factions have demonstrated on numerous occasions their failure to uphold their oaths of office, as well as their willingness to do anything to hold on to power, including threats of violence aimed at fellow legislators. In short, they have repeatedly failed to defend the Constitution and stand for the truth, putting partisan politics first in order to "embrace the lies and enable the liar."
"Republicans have made it clear that they are comfortable with violence, and they are rigging elections to gain power," Richardson wrote on her blog. "Unless Congress chooses to protect our votes with the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, the Republicans' performance in the House today will become our norm." Her remarks proved prescient and on November 29, 2021, she reported that the "Republican leadership has refused to call out Representative Lauren Boebert (R-CO) for recent Islamophobic statements aimed at Boebert's colleague Representative Ilhan Omar (D-MN), suggesting she was a terrorist. This, coming on top of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy's (R-CA) support for Representative Paul Gosar (R-AZ) after he released a video illustrating himself killing Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and slashing at the president, indicates either that McCarthy has lost control of his caucus or is afraid of it, or both."
Boebert and Gosar are extreme examples of the enemies of democracy that now dominate the Republican Party, but they are part of the same fascist threat that coalesced around the Republican campaign to wage class war against FDR's New Deal and the rise of democracy in the 30's. Today,
the monsters of fascism are back and there are Democrats among them as
the evidence of corruption and dereliction of duty mounts. Meanwhile, our erstwhile president, Donald J. Trump and his henchmen, continue to obstruct Justice and get away with it. White men of privilege apparently believe they are above the law and the illegitimate legal system now in place seems to support that contention. We know, for example, the names of those male public figures complicit in Jeffrey Epstein's nefarious web of sexual exploitation of young girls, but only one person, a woman, is being prosecuted. This fact hasn't gotten much attention since the main-stream journalists of integrity that used to work to protect the sanctity of truth on behalf of the public good are scarce nowadays, having been pushed by the oligarchy to the margins of society.
Another egregious example of Justice obstructed is the Julian Assange extradition case, a fiasco that journalist Joe Lauria told Chris Hedges in their December 12, 2021 On Contact interview, marked, "a very dark day for press freedom. What is left of a democracy that's on life support anyway if Assange is actually extradited to the Unite States?"Lauria wondered, explaining that the ruling by the British High Court permitting Assange to be extradited from the UK to America essentially criminalizes investigative journalism. "Assange fulfilled the supreme role of the journalist," Lauria added, "which
is to hold powerful people to account when they commit horrendous crimes."
According to Chris Hedges, Assange is being charged under the Espionage Act, although he is not a U.S. citizen. "He committed empires' greatest sin," said Hedges. "He exposed it as a criminal enterprise. He documented its lies, callous disregard for human life, rampant corruption and innumerable war crimes." Hedges further pointed out that persecution of Assange is a political burlesque, not a legal process. "There is no legal basis to hold Julian in prison. There is no legal basis to try him, a foreign national, under the Espionage Act . . .The persecution of Assange is designed to send a message to anyone who might consider exposing the corruption, dishonesty and depravity that defines the black heart of our global elites."
I mention the Assange case because it represents a supreme injustice. Instead of prosecuting the military personnel responsible for murdering a group of unarmed journalists in Iraq, a war crime exposed by Assange acting as a journalist when he released a video of the killings passed on to him by Chelsea Manning, the Biden Justice Department is prosecuting the whistle blower, a man who did nothing illegal. "Assange, at tremendous personal cost, warned us. He gave us truth. The ruling class is crucifying him for this truth," writes Hedges. "With this crucifixion, the dim lights of our democracy go dark."
Joining the efforts of journalists of integrity like Hedges and Lauria, men who are willing to stand up to such injustices, we are fortunate to have Heather Cox Richardson, who, although not a journalist by profession, achieves the noblest aspirations of the journalist's role via her Letters from
an American. Richardson's voice has become the clarion call of democracy and social justice for thousands who read her letters, and when a recent Financial Times profile revealed that she had considered giving up this beautiful thing that she does, I was horrified at the thought of not having Letters from an American in my e-mail inbox to get my motor running every morning. It seems to me that her writing transmits on the same frequency as Cicero, Tom Paine, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglas, Susan B. Anthony, Millicent Fawcett, Ralph Nader, Lewis Lapham, Thomas Frank, Robert Scheer, Chris Hedges, Matt Taibbi, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Rep. Barbara Lee, Dennis Kucinich, Dwayne Booth, and many other inspired luminaries who have taken a stand for democracy and the rule of law. Chris Hedges once said a person really has only two choices when push comes to shove: either serve money and power or truth and justice. Richardson's choice to serve truth and justice explains the high regard readers have for her work in support of a just, democratic society that thrives for all Americans, not just a cabal of wealthy elites.
Robert Scheer, another great American who also happens to be a professional journalist, described the essence of this virtue in the documentary about his career, Above the Fold. "We have a clearly established principle," said Scheer, "that if you think crimes are being conducted in your name by your government . . .you have an obligation
to speak out . . . you have an obligation to become a whistle blower; that's not some foreign notion; that's something that came out of our tradition, that's our law, we hold people accountable. There are some brave souls who think freedom is non-negotiable. It defines their essence, their commitment, their moral core that they're going to remain true to, and we should back them . . . I have one commitment to myself; to the degree that I am a public person . . . I want to be as honest as I can possibly be and not betray the trust that people are putting in me . . . To me that's the highest obligation."
Heather Cox Richardson fulfills that obligation in spades and when she published the September 15 thank-you letter, the gratitude flowed both ways with a torrent of appreciative sentiment coming from the multitude of Letters from an American readers. That fact speaks volumes about the respect we all share for her integrity and passion for equality. "In thinking over how reading Heather's letters every day has made me more aware of what's happening and how the pieces fit together to create a scary view of the GOP machinations," wrote Danielle(NM), replying to my post on Letters from an American, "I wonder how many of us would have been able to see a big picture. Some of us noted bits and pieces in the news that bothered us. Others, who have been drawn to Heather's letters by a shared social media post or a personal conversation, may have been focusing on their daily lives and oblivious to anything more than the big news headline events. The letters have drawn together a large following as we learn and share ideas and knowledge. If our democracy survives, I believe a lot of credit should go to Heather and her ability to educate and motivate so many to be aware of the dangers and act before it's too late."
Albert Einstein famously said "a student is not a container you have to fill, but a torch you have to light up." As a writer and an educator, "lighting up torches" is what Heather Cox Richardson is all about, empowering the hearts and minds of a growing number of like-minded people yearning for democracy and uniting together to make it a
reality. Richardson does indeed deserve a lot of credit if democracy prevails by virtue of her brilliant assessment of the threats we must overcome and her fact-based analysis of the motivations and Machiavellian political strategies deployed by the adversaries of equality in their campaigns of deceit and intimidation.
Of course, we don't really have a fully functional democracy in this country yet, but it's an ideal worth fighting for. On December 7, 2021,
as part of an inspiring story about U.S. Navy messmate Doris Miller who served heroically aboard the U.S.S. West Virginia during the attack on Pearl Harbor, Richardson asked, "Will we permit the destruction of American democracy on our watch?" Not if she has anything to say about
it, and if by some miracle the vision of the founding fathers can be resurrected as Letters from an American readers hope, it will be a glorious achievement, but in light of the corporate state's iron grip on power what seems more likely is the fate that befell Hemingway's characters Brett and Jake in The Sun Also Rises.
"Oh Jake," Brett said, "We could have had such a damned good time together."
"Yes," Jake said, "Isn't it pretty to think so."
"America is not now--and never has been--a representative democracy," writes civil-rights lawyer Guy Saperstein in his October 7, 2021 Scheerpost essay on leaving America, "and won't be in my lifetime and probably not in yours, either." Saperstein says he's moving to France, "which has a vibrant middle-class, a real labor movement and twenty times less violent crime than in America." Saperstein's comments have that unmistakable ring of truth that's important to acknowledge, lest the quest to revive the promises of democracy becomes another quixotic liberal endeavor with no meaningful denouement.
"The competing systems of power in the United States are divided between oligarchy and autocracy," Chris Hedges points out in his On Contact interview with economist Richard Wolff. "There are no other alternatives." Certainly not the faux liberal democratic vision promoted by the Biden political machine on behalf of the Oligarchy. As Richard Wolff notes in the interview, the oligarchs have blocked the corrective criticism of the capitalist system provided by genuine democratic participation in power, a benefit with the potential to prevent societal collapse, which now seems imminent as the Trump wing takes over the Republican Party and the Democrats side with the status quo against the principles of democratic governance upon which the nation was founded.
"The alliance of Republican and Democratic oligarchs exposes the burlesque that characterized the old two-party system," Hedges also noted, "where the ruling parties fought over what Sigmund Freud called the 'narcissism of minor differences' but were united on all the major structural issues including massive defense spending, free-trade deals,
tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations, the endless wars, government surveillance, the money-saturated election process, neoliberalism, austerity, deindustrialization, militarized police, and the world's largest prison system. The liberal class, fearing autocracy, has thrown in its lot with the oligarchs, discrediting and rendering impotent the causes and issues it claims to champion."
To her credit, Heather Cox Richardson has chosen to throw in her lot with the American people by helping to clarify the issues that matter as part of the movement to challenge the corporate forces against democracy and fulfill the promise of justice and equality for all guaranteed by the Constitution." But this project really belongs to you who read it," she wrote on Thanksgiving, November 25, 2021. "It was your voice that created the project, you who inspire me when I'm so dead tired I fall asleep sitting up, and you who bring in related material and ask questions and correct my stupid errors. Above all, it is you who are helping to model what we so desperately need in America: a respectful community based in facts, rather than in anger and partisanship, a community that can defend our democracy and carry it into a new era."
Power to the People!
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