The Threat to American Democracy

I’m angry and I’m not going to mince words. I fear for our republic.

Most Americans have little awareness of the violence in our past. But murder has been a feature of American politics since the Civil War, often making elections meaningless. Mass slaughter of Republicans after the Civil War allowed Southern Democrats to retake the South, by eliminating and terrorizing the opposition. Even the U.S. Supreme Court chose to look aside and let the South have its new “peculiar institution,”: substituting a reign of terror for legal slavery.

President Kennedy was killed while I was in law school. His killer may have acted alone. But it was a time of killings. Blacks and whites were killed for sympathizing or supporting the Civil Rights movement, or trying to help African-Americans register to vote. In one case a fourteen year old boy from Chicago visiting southern relatives was murdered for whistling at a white woman. Those killers weren’t acting alone. They were organized, often in league with local sheriffs and other authorities. At the very least it was contagious. We soon mourned the loss of Kennedy’s younger brother Bobbie Kennedy, and the Rev. Martin Luther King. Those murders did matter. By the end of the decade they took the sails out of the movement to make this a better country, robbed us of precisely those people we could most easily rally behind. That’s not democracy; that’s murder as politics.

Murder is not only intolerable, it’s dangerous to our system of government and our way of life.

It is ironic that Congresswoman Giffords supported gun rights and that Judge Roll had overruled a portion of the Brady law, an attempt to check on who is buying guns.

The love of guns and the imagery of people in gun sights is partly a legacy of the Civil War. Some so-called conservatives and Tea Partiers have treated it as respectable to talk about “Fourteenth Amendment citizens.” Those Fourteenth Amendment citizens are descendants of the men and women kidnapped in Africa, shackled to the decks, and “lucky”, if you call it that, to be brought to these shores and held as slaves for the rest of their and their children’s and their children’s children’s lives. Many who heap venom on so-called Fourteenth Amendment citizens now train in what they call “militias” for the day they will have to resist the U.S. Army and the National Guard. We have our own homegrown thugs who have murdered, bombed, and tortured.

Many supporters of gun rights do not buy that crap. Certainly Congresswoman Giffords was one. But blocking sensible gun regulation, including registration and reporting, gives cover to the worst and most dangerous elements in America, the anti-Americans who have never been reconciled to a just republic, to the end of slavery, the need to share this country with people of all views and pigments, indeed who have never accepted loyalty to the U.S.A. that emerged from the Civil War with the finest statements of human rights embodied in the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments.

I’m delighted that the Republicans decided to read the U.S. Constitution, the whole Constitution, with the Amendments. It makes equality and democracy the touchstones of what it means to be an American. Now we have to keep guns out of the hands of those who are deranged, and those who want to bring back the Confederacy, and an America that doesn’t include many of us. We have to turn our backs on all those who are willing to make violent rhetoric respectable. They are doing more than supporting reasonable gun rights, they are giving aid and comfort to the enemies of America.

— This commentary was broadcast on WAMC Northeast Report, January 11, 2011.


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