America is built on a series of checks and balances. At least, that’s what they teach us in our high school history classes. Why is America the greatest country in the world? (A question posed by many and answered honestly by few). We’re told one reason is our system of government – a series of checks on different sectors of power, so no branch can become all-powerful.
America is founded on the concepts of institutions designed to protect people.
Now, anyone who has read anything about United States history knows this is a false idea, and knows it does not accurately reflect the history of this country. Nor does it accurately reflect the goals and agenda of the men who created such systems.
On November 7, 2016, all that still believed this received a large wake-up call. Many of our fellow citizens had warned us that we were in a dangerous time in our country – that our golden systems were simply gilded to cover shaky foundations. That we could not trust that our institutions were infallible.
They were right.
What do we do when we can no longer rely on institutions to protect us? This reliance is what got us into this mess in the first place. We got lazy and started relying on systems that have never been fully functional. These systems are flawed–I think we can all agree on that at this point–but they were only ever as powerful as those who wielded said power. And they were only ever as good as the morality of the men–because it has primarily been men–that were placed in the positions to control them. However, we expected that the systems would work and became complacent.
We abdicated our own personal responsibility within the matters of democracy. But government is a reflection of the people that are involved in it. We are lucky enough in America to have access to this. The people of this country have a say in their representatives. Regardless of how flawed our systems may be and how problematic aspects of them are, we do have a say. We can get to the voting booths (a fact that emphasizes the dangers of policies which increase voter suppression).
And now we sit, over a year into a corrupt, presidential administration that seems to be attacking so many of the systems that we had convinced ourselves were inerrant. Our institutions cannot be relied upon to protect us on their own.
And that is a difficult pill to swallow.
Being a citizen of this country is more than reliances on the checks and balances we learned about in high school. We have to actively participate in democratic functions, or else democracy as we know it ceases to exist. So I begin to worry when I see some of the responses to this administration–especially those on Twitter, which can be equally a force of such good and a bastion of untempered outrage. I worry that we will become complacent again, by expecting our institutions to save us. That perhaps we will begin to rest on the idea of Robert Mueller coming to save us.
And that isn’t how it works. While I have great faith in the actions of the Special Counsel, and fully believe that the arc of our universe does, indeed, bend towards justice, resting on the laurels of an investigation completely out of our control does nothing to actively further such arc. The general population of America has no control over what Mueller does or does not do. Nor does the population have control over whether or not Republican lawmakers will decide to hold President Trump accountable based on Mueller’s findings.
And frankly, we’ve got a much bigger, more important job ahead of us. Our democracy is fractured, and it has been for some time. Because of public complacency, corporate interest groups, virulent racism, and outrage over the fact that the face of America no longer looks like the old white men in Congress, our democracy is bleeding.
The core cause of these issues does not get fixed by Robert Mueller indicting every person involved in illegal activity. Now, this is not to say that his work is anything less than utterly important. The unprecedented investigation into Russian interference is arguably the most important investigation of our times and will have domestic and international ramifications for years to come. The act of Russian interference was, without a doubt, an important factor in the outcome of the election–in many, intricate ways. This, compounded with gerrymandering and other forms of voter suppression made the playing field inequitable before any of us cast a ballot.
However, 45% of American adults didn’t participate on election day. And many of the policies that contributed to the aforementioned voter suppression were able to flourish because of unchecked complacency which led us to believe that our democratic institutions did not need as much upkeep.
To expect the outcome of this investigation to fix the many systemic problems that face America is a band-aid in a situation that involves all of us. As a country, we have a lot of reckoning to do–reckoning that no one can do for us. We need to explore the factions that we are in control that led us to the path we are on today.
And believe me, I know how tempting it is to expect the superhero to come in and save the day and save democracy.
But that’s not how this works. We can’t expect that anyone is coming to save us. It’s one of those terrible realizations of growing up–Iron Man doesn’t exist. Captain America doesn’t exist. It’s just us, moving forward in this universe trying to figure it out. And that thought is scary, so it makes sense that we look for superheroes. We cast authority figures in the role of these saviors and we fictionalize our support of brilliant, brave humans but in doing so, all we’ve done is put blinders on. They’re still not coming to save the day.
We have to be our own superheroes. We have to save the days ourselves–in all of our brilliant, flawed human ways. Each one of us, in our individual, everyday acts of heroism.
It has always been the acts of everyday people that have protected the moral soul of this country. If we hope to turn around from the bleeding that we see before us, we are going to need to rely on everyday people.
That’s the true nature of democracy, and what gives me hope. It would be great if Mueller found all the evidence the “Resistance” is hoping for, but for us to wait on that, to sleep on what we actually have control over–midterms, voting, local elections – seems like an abdication of responsibility. It dismisses personal accountability related to the role each and every one of us played leading up to this point.
If we don’t reflect on this, if we fail to look inwards, even if what we find is difficult to stomach, we’re never going to move forward.
But this is the difference, between Donald Trump’s administration and the sane members of this country. They refuse to stand accountable for their actions–something demonstrated by the laissez-faire way their lies are piled upon each other, twisting the truth into a rare commodity scarcely seen anymore. And I truly believe that is what eventually is going to turn the tide – because sooner or later, accountability catches up with us all.
We too, need to participate in reflection. It’s uncomfortable, especially for those of us that sit in positions of privilege, who may have inadvertently participated in narratives that were not in our best interest or the interest of this country. It is difficult to look inwards – that is a fundamentally American and fundamentally human truth. The mirror hurts.
But frankly, with the position we are in now, things are going to hurt more if we fail to engage in some much-needed inner contemplation. And it’s worth noting that this job is not limited to just the general population–the media, politicians, and all the powerful players that have a direct impact on the narrative of this country necessitate a similar moment of reflection.
My mother used to tell me about a book she read that talked about why certain people live through tragedies –why catastrophic events are survived by some and not others. Why so often, it is the young child that survives the terrible plane crash, rather than the expert that has training in matters of catastrophe. The people that survive have one thing in common–they are able to see reality for what it is, rather than what they wish it would be.
Life rarely moves the way we expect it to, and sometimes it is hard for us to grasp that. The not so silent majority of this country’s population wished there was another reality for us to live in on November 6th. Calls of “Not My President!” and mentions of a fictional Earth 2.0 where life still made sense. And believe me, I understand this desire. It’s a much-needed reprieve. We all need to figure out our ways to cope–especially those whom the policies of this administration have the potential to harm the most.
But it becomes detrimental when we step beyond coping. When we start to shut our eyes to reality because it is too painful to bear on a daily basis. When we start relying on the very institutions that have failed us, rather than taking matters into our own hands and asking what each of us can do individually to better our situation.
Because I’m sorry to tell you, but we’re in this for the long haul. We’re with this administration until at least 2020 (even if Trump’s impeached, we have Mike Pence), and the recovery afterward is going to be long and arduous. I’m here to tell you that this is a marathon–no matter what the outcome of Mueller’s investigation.
So yes, rest. Figure out the ways to cope. And then get up and get back to working on the many, utterly important, everyday things we have the power to change.