One of the joys of being the grandmother of an adult granddaughter is the walks in which we exchange our views of life. As many of us know, grandparents and grandchildren enjoy a bond like no other. Each has a standing equal to the other; young and old, discovery and knowing.
It was on one of those walks that I was startled to hear my granddaughter, a citizen of Canada, tell me she was fearful of crossing the border to the USA. I asked her what made her feel that way.
She described Facebook postings that warned that a Canadian’s background would be checked, including Facebook, and anyone found to disagree with our President would be somehow held. The consequences weren’t clear to her; therefore, not to me either.
All I knew was that she was caught up in the paranoia of the travel ban and the resulting frenzy that grows on itself and distorts any semblance of the idea that spawned the suspicion of unchecked power.
I surprised myself by having a spontaneous and immediate response fueled by my desire to deliver it in the most gentle and honest way I could. She deserved nothing less and no judgments about what could seem like an absurd idea. She was not alone among peoples in ours and many countries that feel off balance and try to make sense of an unfamiliar style of an apprentice President of the United States.
A test like no other
I began by assuring her that there have been no directives related to Canadian citizens. I agreed that many words and directives of the new administration seemed frightening; mostly, because we don’t know, perhaps, don’t trust the underlying motivations. Explanations seem like slogans of patriotism and lack detail to explain how they will work.
More importantly, and this is where I surprised myself, I told her that at this moment our democratic system of government is being tested in a way it never has. I assured her that the United States through its constitution has mechanisms that can be used when our country is threatened by autocratic rule and denial of civil rights. That our founders went to great lengths to make absolute power impossible.
We have the President, the Congress, the Courts and the States; each of which has a specific role in maintaining the balance and separation of powers. Going on, I had no doubt that each of those will be presented the choice of whether to endorse, to object and to judiciously know when to act or not.
Finishing, I agreed that we are in a serious time and our system would either work or it would fail. I didn’t know which.
Democracy is messy
Several weeks have passed since then and I have watched the testing of our system occur in several areas. I am only bothered by the time it is taking from this time of our lives to follow the transparent, the insidious, the retreats, the advances and the communication contortions. This is not how I planned to spend my semi-retirement.
The system is waking and seems to be working in a fitful lumbering way. So far this is what we are seeing the system do.
First, several states — ours being one of them — took the travel ban directive to court and stopped it. The travel ban directive was subsequently rewritten to remove the inclusion of people with US green cards and those who were trusted allies in Iraq and attempt to eliminate the impression of a religious test that excludes Muslims. Two other states have filed lawsuits to block the enforcement of the revised travel ban.
Seems some people believe both travel bans are solutions in search of a problem.
The most interesting and surprising test of the system occurred when the President went on record with the claim that his predecessor had illegally wiretapped his campaign, including him, prior to the election.
Despite numerous people such as the FBI director, Department of Justice and former Central Intelligence director saying that it simply wasn’t possible for a President or anyone to unilaterally order the invasion of a US citizen’s privacy, the President persisted. He requested that the possible felony of the former President be investigated by Congress.
Here were two significant tests of our system. One was, would Congress comply with the President’s request and hold an investigative hearing on the former President without some sort of reliable indication of a crime being planned or committed?
The second test involves the “stomach” of the party holding congressional power to question the President who belongs to the same party. This test in process relates to learning whether any of the President’s campaign people made promises or agreements with Russia in exchange for Russian interference in our democracy.
Despite the President’s request, Congress only allowed the FBI director to be questioned about the existence of evidence of deliberate surveillance at the hearing; otherwise being held to learn the Russian connection to the presidential election. The FBI director testified on behalf of the FBI and Department of Justice that there was no evidence of deliberate surveillance. Any further Congressional investigation is on hold unless evidence can be produced.
BREAKING NEWS on breaking rules: House Intelligence Committee chair crosses the line of separation of powers and speaks to President about evidence. Both sides of the aisle are now questioning the ability of Congress to investigate the President’s campaign with any credibility.
The second test in current process is far more interesting in that much more information is on record; yet, much more is needed to understand the span of Russia’s attempts to disrupt our democracy. So far, the party in power focused on an important alternative issue around illegal leaks of classified information.
Although they avoided the issue of a possible Russia connection to the campaign, the House majority allowed the minority party significant time to ask questions that laid the groundwork for further inquiry into the issue.
Politics were in play but the conscience of the system was in place at least for the moment.
Press and the people
Besides states, courts and Congress functioning as powerful checks, our system also assures freedom of the press and freedom of speech as written in the First Amendment. Press representing all sides of the political spectrum are active in reporting and analysis of events, statements, proposed legislation and, yes, twitters.
Despite or maybe because of, the arguments about whose news is the “fake news” and whose is fact news is left to the people, that’s us, to decide.
People who vote have power as the final decision-makers.
Good decisions require sorting through news confusion and strong opposing opinions about policy. Good decisions require understanding that democracy is messy but better than the alternative. Democracy today requires us to work harder to keep it.
We are the final test.
Bertha D. Cooper is retired from a 40-plus year career as a health care administrator focusing on the delivery system as a whole. She still does occasional consulting. She is a featured columnist at the Sequim Gazette. Reach her at columnists@ sequimgazette.com.