In an emergency, if one cares deeply about one’s community, one does not hold back from being direct. So let me say this in no uncertain terms to my fellow Washingtonians (and beyond): right now, our democracy is on life support.
Actually, that might well be an optimistic statement, because the public at large still hasn’t woken up to the true nature and implication of this American Nightmare. Trump has out-smarted us at each and every step of the way since 2015, leaving us trailing in the dust, scratching our heads, as we repeatedly fail to learn.
As I have pointed out repeatedly over the last several months, just as Mueller, then Pelosi failed to save us, so too will the election fail to save us — because Trump remains ahead of us and, right now, is successfully stealing the election in plain sight, while we watch and do precisely nothing to stop him. We talk while he acts: and the one who acts, wins.
Instead, we wait for someone else to save us, failing to learn that only you and I, we the people, can save our democracy, that this is our job, as Dr Sarah Kendzior, Yale professors Timothy Snyder and Jason Stanley, as well as Holocaust survivors Primo Levi and Martin Niemoller, and philosopher John Stuart Mill have warned us. Only when we step up and meet our obligation as citizens by taking full responsibility for our democracy can Trump’s authoritarian takeover be stopped. Only when we stop believing ourselves to be kings of democracy and instead realize that we are its servants, will we stop this takeover. Only when we stop complacently believing in the fairy-tale that simply voting in November is all that is required of us — that it is someone else’s job to do the real (i.e. hard, grueling and gritty) work of saving our democracy whilst we just free-ride off their efforts — will we stop this American Nightmare.
As anyone paying attention (especially to experts on Putin and scholars of authoritarianism) knows beyond a shadow of any doubt, Putin chose our president in 2016 and he is doing so again now — entirely unimpeded. Prof. Snyder put it in clear language: in a video series which starts with one titled Russia Defeats America, he talks about the “Russian cyber-victory over the United States, known as the presidential election of .” He points out that since 2016, the U.S. has been a Russian cyber-colony, that Trump is Putin’s “instrument.”
But we did not even notice, because we couldn’t be bothered, despite numerous authoritarian and legal experts and academics (Ruth Ben-Ghiat, Sarah Kendzior, Tim Snyder, Jason Stanley, Seth Abramson, Fiona Hill as authoritarian experts; Lawrence Douglas, Eliza Goitein, Ryan Goodman, Steve Vladeck, Richard Hasen, Edward Foley, Walter Shaub, Jenny Cohn, as legal experts) repeatedly warning the American public since 2015 that Trump has been a Russian asset since the 1980s; that since 2015, he has drawn consistently and directly from the authoritarian playbook; that he has been implementing an authoritarian takeover; that there is precisely nothing in our Constitution to prevent this; that neither the Supreme Court nor the military has jurisdiction to stop him; and that he already has an extraordinary range of authoritarian powers granted by an extensive body of PEADs, built up and expanded upon since Eisenhower. In short, he has already tossed much of the furniture of our democracy out of the window, and installed the furniture of authoritarianism around us instead. And we haven’t cared to even notice. Is it really Trump who is the buffoon?
In our narcissism, we focus on our entitlements, not on our obligations. We forget that the power that democracy gives us is not our entitlement, it is our obligation. When we fail to live up to our obligation, it is we who are killing off our democracy — not Trump, nor Putin, who merely take advantage of the vacuum that we have created in our arrogance, complacency and sloth, an opportunity that we lay out for these authoritarians on a silver platter.
I recently talked about something that has possibly been the greatest driver of the collapsing health of our democracy, which my former collaborator Professor John Kay CBE and Sir Paul Collier CBE (two of the UK’s pre-eminent economists) recently drew attention to in their book Greed Is Dead: Politics After Individualism: the public’s “extreme individualism,” while highlighting that Trump is merely a reflection of public at large (including both sides of the partisan divide).
Using this framework, I showed how the voters in my ward (Ward 2) are in fact responsible for the fruits of the Council-member they repeatedly and emphatically endorsed by consistently re-electing him over and over for 30 years. These fruits have had a devastating toll on the larger community across D.C. as a whole, especially our Black community: Ward 2’s (former) Council-member implemented policies that inevitably resulted in the city becoming the worst in the country for its economic inequality and its racial wealth gap, by lavishing unconscionably gigantic amounts of corporate welfare on those who least deserved or needed it (his cronies and un-competitive big businesses who couldn’t stand on their own two feet without this welfare), thus stifling sustainable job creation, and cutting off sustainable growth opportunities for small businesses and homegrown entrepreneurs with more innovative, competitive and value-creating value propositions for the public, to flourish. In other words, their Council-member’s active policy choices cut off vital economic growth and opportunities for the broader population, and stifled what my former collaborator Nobel laureate economist Prof Ned Phelps calls ‘grassroots innovation’ (a critical key to reversing economic — especially racial — inequality, and a city’s most invaluable asset).
And so, to draw from the core lesson of Primo Levi’s book If This Be A Man (its American title is Survival in Auschwitz), our only chance to stop Trump’s authoritarian takeover is to stop pointing the finger at Trump, and instead look into ourselves, recognize the Trump in all of us, to see how we are behaving with Trumpian traits (albeit of a much lesser intensity) — and immediately correct course. Being anti-Trump means taking a broader, more inclusive, more educated, better-informed perspective, focusing on our obligations not our entitlements, and thinking about the greater good instead of focusing solely on our individual interests. Individualistic voters beget sociopathic politics.
Being anti-Trump also means being concerned about our marginalized communities — including our Black community and other communities of color, our LGBTQ community, our homeless community, our disabled community, and others — because it is they who will suffer the worst harm under Trump’s authoritarian state.
It is absolutely imperative that we recognize our obligation to do the hard work of saving our democracy now (here is Dr. Kendzior’s action guide), and not wait until November when it will be too late. Being anti-Trump means following in the spirit of John Lewis and making “good trouble” each and every single day: countless lives, and our shared humanity, depend upon each of you doing this. Otherwise, we simply will not prevail.
Indeed, at this most critical, once-in-a-lifetime fight for all of us, I have today filed to formally withdraw from the D.C. Council race, in order to continue focusing entirely on fulfilling this obligation as I have done every single day since this spring, and to (peacefully) fight my heart out for democracy, our Constitution, our community and our shared humanity. I will have the opportunity to run for Council in the future: but there will not be another opportunity to fight to save our democracy from Trump’s authoritarian takeover.
I leave you with a question, one which can only be answered with action: do you deserve democracy? Prove it.
Because if you — we all — are not actively, and peacefully, fighting now and every day to save democracy, then no, we don’t deserve it. Having the guts and honesty to wake up to this reality is the only way to save our democracy, our true American Dream.
Katherine Venice CFA MBA
The writer is a reformer of capitalism (working to reverse economic inequality). She was also a candidate for D.C. Council (Ward 2) and would be grateful for any donations via her campaign website (www.KatherineWard2.com) to help her pay off campaign expenses.