If Americans aren’t willing to vigorously protect democracy, it’s time to put Independence Hall up for sale on eBay. And you can throw the Liberty Bell into the bargain.
Independence Hall is where the nation’s foresighted framers adopted the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. President Joe Biden chose the Philadelphia hall as the backdrop Thursday for an impassioned prime-time speech in which he called for standing up to those who would subvert elections and lead the nation to some form of one-party rule.
It was a message a beleaguered nation needed to hear, and Biden, with his long history of trying to build bipartisan coalitions, was the right person to deliver it. It also was, in our view, unfortunate that Biden’s fervent and soaring speech was not carried by the major networks.
Defending democracy seems so elemental to the nation’s ideals of voting, liberty and freedom you would think it was part of every citizen’s civic DNA.
Yet with threats of violence against polling place workers, election deniers nominated for jobs overseeing elections, scare tactics and numerous incumbent Republicans who objected to certifying the 2020 presidential election, we are going down a dangerous path. It’s a path toward which gerrymandering, making it harder to vote and other anti-democratic tactics already have steered us. Unfettered partisan control of balloting could decide election outcomes regardless of voters’ wishes, uprooting democratic ideals.
The fundamental concept of democracy — that the better ideas win in the long run and that if you lose in one election, you work harder in the next — is under assault. The Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection was the frightening culmination of an illegal effort to overturn the lawful 2020 presidential election, and many conspiracy-mongers are still fighting that battle. They essentially want an authoritarian system of single-party rule, in which their side can’t lose, no matter what the majority wants.
Yet if Americans write off the democratic ideals symbolized by Independence Hall, the ramifications will be far worse than many suspect. No longer will the people have the unchallenged power to set the nation on a wiser course. No longer will they be free to speak out publicly and controversially without fear of reprisal, a right denied in so many other countries. They will be shackled, as Biden said, by “an extremism that threatens the very foundations of our republic.”
Sensible people cannot allow that to happen.
We’re disappointed so many leading Republicans — cravenly laboring under never-ending and shameful fear of former President Donald Trump and his allies — criticized Biden for his speech, calling it divisive, polarizing and hyper-partisan. Where were their voices when Trump issued multiple divisive and hyper-partisan statements whenever he was near a microphone or ranting on his since-suspended Twitter account?
Where are their voices now — two months before the midterm elections — when the electoral machinery of democracy remains under assault, and Trump has said he will “very seriously consider” pardoning the Jan. 6 insurrectionists if he wins the White House in 2024? Biden was entirely justified, on that issue alone, to call out Trump and the faction of extreme “MAGA Republicans” for their anti-democratic behavior and rejection of the rule of law.
Amid the swirl of pressing election-season issues, it’s easy to be distracted from the growing risk to bedrock democratic values, especially as so many on the right wing are shouting, “Nothing to see here, folks.”
But Americans must reject that talk. A democracy lost will not easily be regained or may never be regained.
For generations, proud Americans have gathered before Independence Hall, with its red brick façade, bell tower and steeple, awed by its majestic testament to a brave new idea.
Now, as Biden said, true patriots must “vote, vote, vote,” while shunning those who would stack elections in their own favor. Only in that way can America’s historic experiment in peaceful democracy move into the future with flags flying as a bulwark and beacon of freedom for the world.
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