Op-eds of the week: Improving democracy, fighting authoritarianism and the power of patience
Our weekly op-ed highlight reel
The Fulcrum is a forum for debate about what's ailing American democracy and what could make the system healthier. Here are the most recent arguments from our columnists and other contributors.
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Jay Paterno, former Penn State coach and one-time candidate for lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania, was recently on a ship headed into New York Harbor. The voyage got him thinking of his ancestors who came to this country, as well as all the other immigrant waves that both preceded and followed his family.
Their story is the story of America, seeking something better for the generations to follow.
That is the truth for so many of us. The people before us built a great if imperfect nation, but an ascendent one always fighting its own flaws. The arc of our nation’s journey has been to strengthen our nation, it has been to identify our wrongs and to correct them. Even to the point of a long and bloody Civil War to free millions of souls wrongly enslaved and to bind the divisions that threatened to rend this nation forever.
Our complicated history has brought us to a precarious time, one of deep polarization and distrust. It will take courage to overcome our shared problems.
Last week, we celebrated our nation’s independence but we also mourned the victims of more mass shootings and war in Ukraine. For some, the contrast was difficult and dispiriting. Jerren Chang and Rebecca Reid see the holiday as an opportunity to kickstart the work that began with the Founders but is far from complete.
Our Declaration of Independence sets out a revolutionary vision: equality as the bedrock of freedom. In pronouncing independence, the founders justified their revolutionary action with universal principles of human equality. Not only that we are all created equal, but each of us is the best judge of our own happiness. And, as a result, it is only through the practice of understanding each others’ lived experiences and engaging as equal co-owners in the design of a system of self-governance that we can build a society free from oppression and tyranny.
As they write, practicing “everyday democracy” can help our nation achieve the goals set out in our founding documents.
Additional reading: Like the Boss says, we take care of our own
If the pattern of choosing presidents from outside the Beltway holds, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis may be the next White House occupant.
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Americans love changing things up at the White House, turning to Washington outsiders rather than Beltway lifers (see: Donald Trump, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, etc.). And yes, Joe Biden breaks that trend, but as in most things, Trump created a unique situation. Part of the reason for this habit among voters, according to author Lawrence Goldstone, is our desire for a quick fix even when problems require long-term strategies.
The answer seems to be that every one of the upstarts, be it Clinton, Obama, Bush, Emmanuel Macron or Nicolas Sarkozy, gained office by promising change, often radical change, in the face of political stultification. When sufficient change did not come, instead of asking themselves why, the electorate simply blamed the person they elected and switched to the next new face making the same sort of promises. And so, each of these so-called outsiders understood how powerful a weapon blame is and campaigned successfully on the “failed administration” of the man they sought to succeed.
Now Vladimir Putin is banking on that same thinking to help him achieve his goals in Ukraine as Americans tire of inflation and high gas prices. But real change requires patience.
Supporters of President Donald Trumps stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
While watching Cassidy Hutchinson testify before Congress, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace senior fellow Rachel Kleinfeld, found a historical precedent for the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol insurrection. What she saw and heard reminded her of Benito Mussolini’s 1922 march on Rome.
Trump failed to take over our democracy by force on Jan. 6. But like Mussolini, his popularity and threats of violence led conservatives to hand him power well before the march.
America’s conservatives need to reassert their power and, alongside Democrats, halt the rise of authoritarianism.
A reader asked our resident advice columnist, Joe Weston, how to have a civil conversation on reproductive rights when everyone, no matter what side they are on, seems unwilling to consider a different point of view. Joe framed the response in the larger context of our deeply divided society.
The problem, of course, comes from our hyper-polarized time where there is no longer any subtlety for variations on viewpoints and beliefs. As the tension builds, we have sacrificed respectful, creative, nuanced dialogue for stubborn, reactive stances, reducing almost all important issues to a choice of This or That. We find ourselves in positions of “You’re either for us, or you’re against us.”
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