Posted by: ericgrimsrud | February 4, 2022

We must retain faith in our democracy

 We Americans like to claim that we govern ourselves via a representative democracy by which all citizens have an equal voice in the selection of our leaders and through them determine the laws and policies of our country. The maintenance of a free representative democracy such as this is not easy, however, as Ben Franklin warned back in 1776 (“you will have a representative democracy – if you can keep it”).  During the 250 years since then, we have witnessed many of the destructive forces Franklin envisioned – most of which have come from internal forces initiated by our own elected officials. While the Civil War era provided the greatest challenge to the maintenance of what Lincoln called the “American experiment”, less obvious but potentially lethal attacks on our system of governance have also visited the USA on a regular basis. In this post we will recall the well-documented history of five events in the post-WWII era that have brought us closer to an authoritarian system of governance

The first of these post-WWII events occurred in the early 1950’s under the watch of President Dwight D. Eisenhower. At that time, the country of Iran had just elected Mohammad Mosaddegh to its office of Prime Minister.  Mosaddegh had been educated in democratic countries of the West and, as prime minister of Iran, was  committed to the development of a free democratic government in Iran.  His plan was not supported by Eisenhower’s State Department, however, because they, along with Britain, wanted to maintain control over Iran’s vast oil reserves.  Ike’s predecessor, Harry Truman, had previously refused to interfere with Iran’s internal affairs and welcomed Mosaddegh’s plan to democratize Iran’s government. Nevertheless, Eisenhour agreed to let his State Department do whatever it wished in order to retain control over Iran’s oil fields and ordered the American CIA to assist them in the overthrow of Prime Minister Mosaddegh.

Therefore, in 1952, the US State Department and CIA secretly orchestrated an insurgency in Iran that managed to quickly overthrow Prime Minister Mosaddegh who was then imprisoned for the 16-year remainder of his life. At the time of his death, Mosaddegh did not even know that he had been betrayed by the USA. After the coup, the Shah of Iran was granted dictatorial powers as long as he allowed the US and Great Britain to retained control of Iran’s oil fields.

These decidedly improper actions of the US State Department and the CIA were not revealed to the public until congressional hearings of the CIA were begun in the 1970’s.  An official admission of guilt by the USA was not issued until 1990.  In 1979 the Shah of Iran was overthrown by the Islamic fundamentalist regime that still is in power today. This led to the host of difficulties that the USA has had with Iran in subsequent decades. As all of these events where further discovered and reported, the USA was clearly shown to have destroyed one of the few fledgling democracies in the Middle East.

Thus, Eisenhower’s shadow government within the USA ignored the laws of our country and those of Iran in order to rob that country of both its wealth and right to govern itself.  While most of us learned to “(I) like Ike” in the 50’s, it was most unfortunate that he joined a political party that lacked an appreciation for the generation of democratic principles abroad.

The second case occurred during the election year of 1968 when President Lindon Johnson was desperately trying to end the war in Vietnam by arranging a peace treaty in Paris between the governments of North and South Vietnam. However, Presidential candidate Richard Nixon was concerned that if the Johnson administration was able to do that, the sitting Vice President and 1968 presidential candidate, Hubert Humphrey, would win the upcoming presidential election. Therefore, Nixon asked his Republican representatives (private citizens in Saigon) to convince the South Vietnam government that they should stall the pending peace negotiations with the promise that the South would get a better deal later under a Nixon administration. The South then did back out of the 1968 negotiations in Paris and the war was not ended under Johnson’s watch. Instead, the Vietnam War went on for more than four more years eventually resulting in the complete destruction of South Vietnam, the loss of about a million Vietnamese lives, and the deaths of 20,763 additional American servicemen with 111,230 wounded.  In addition, the neighboring country of Cambodia was destabilized leading to years of genocide in that country.

In this way Nixon’s secret shadow government undermined the efforts of our sitting president, Lyndon Johnson, to end that war – merely for his own personal gain. At that time, President Johnson learned what Nixon was doing but decided to keep it a secret because of the shame he thought it would cast on the USA.  Many now believe that Johnson’s decision to protect the reputation of his country by not exposing Nixon’s treachery was a great mistake in that it later led to some of Nixon’s other illegal efforts, such as the Watergate break-in, to find and destroy secret historical records that would be incriminating to him.  In any case, it is clear that because of Nixon’s treasonous actions in 1968, he, instead of Hubert Humphrey, won the presidency in the extremely close election of 1968. Because Humphrey would have been a very different president with very different goals, Nixon’s treasonous behavior significantly altered American history in subsequent decades. In addition, Nixon thereby provided members of his GOP party with a lesson on how it could win if it was willing to put fealty to the GOP ahead of that to his country and constitution.

The third Case: A similar and equally important event in American History occurred twelve years later in the election year of 1980 when President Carter was facing the Republican candidate, Ronald Reagan. Supporters of candidate Reagan made a secret request to representatives of the Iranian government asking them to not release American hostages that had been held in Tehran since the takeover of our Iranian embassy in November of 1979 until Reagan had been elected and taken office. So, on Jan 18, 1981, moments after Reagan was sworn in, the hostages were released.  Thus, for his personal gain, Reagan and his Republican conspirators again did what Nixon had done in 1968 by interfering with the foreign policy efforts of the US government under a sitting  president who was trying to free our embassy employees in a more timely manner. Such behavior was clearly illegal under American law and constituted treason against the USA and its citizens.

A few years later, the Iran-Contra Affair also came to light. By this secret agreement, a shadow government formed by Reagan sold weapons to Iran and gave the proceeds to a right-wing Nicaraguan revolutionary force called the Contras. Why would Reagan have done such a favor to Iran – which would then use those weapons for their own distinctly anti-American programs? The likely explanation is that it was a payoff to Iran for helping Reagan get elected in 1980 as well as for providing financial support for the right-wing Contra rebels of Nicaragua.  All of this was perpetrated by Reagan’s shadow government without consultation or consent from the US Congress which had previously not allowed US funds to be provided to either party in the Nicaraguan civil war. While Reagan was forced to admit his complicity in all of this near the end of his second term, like Nixon ten years earlier, he was not prosecuted for these distinctly illegal activities.  

The fourth case:  During the Presidency of George W. Bush, the attack on America known as 9/11 occurred.  An immediate reaction to that attack was to suspect that various Islamic nations might have been responsible for it. The Bush administration was particularly interested in Iraq’s potential involvement and used this opportunity to settle past grievances against Iraq’s dictator, Saddam Hussain. Therefore, the administration of GW Bush orchestrated a case for the invasion of Iraq by claiming that Iraq was accumulating various weapons of mass destruction. After the US’s successful invasion and takeover of Iraq in 2003, however, no such weapons of mass destruction were found.  It was subsequently found that other evidence against Hussain gathered by the CIA and the State Department of the USA had been obtained under the pressure to produce such evidence by the Bush administration. Thus, it appears that our enormous military adventures in Iraq during the decade after our invasion in 2003 were put into motion by a misinformed and self-isolated cabinet of GW Bush that used the military power of the USA to settle old scores they had with a sovereign country. That “Mission Accomplished” sent a message to the world that the USA, the supposed leader of the free world, had indulged in distinctly criminal behavior without justifications other than settling old scores.  The fact that many Americans accepted that excuse for our invasion of Iraq suggests that our country has lost some of its faith in the rule of law and is becoming more receptive to the notion that “might makes right”.  

The fifth case: Donald Trump

The reasons why Donald Trump should not have ever been made the President of the USA in 2016 are too numerous to list here but have been extensively reported ever since he decided to have a go at the management of our government about a decade ago. In that time, he has shown himself to be the polar opposite of what is required to oversee a country founded on democratic principles. It is clear that he does not give a hoot about the maintenance of our democracy. His best options for future employment would seem to be as a dictator in some other country that thinks it needs one – unless (Heaven forbid) he manages to again get the support of the American GOP in the upcoming election of 2024.

Thus, a critical question is: will the GOP of today support him in 2024?  If the GOP’s motto continues to be that provided by some of its historic figures, that is, ‘win at all costs’, his chances of success are not so bad. If the motley gang of Trump supporters (who Hillary appropriately called “a basket of deplorables”) are again sucked in by this snake-oil salesman, the representatives of GOP in Washington are again likely to jump into that basket because they know that they have nothing to offer in solving the USA’s real problems. Their interests in government service now appears to be little more than keeping taxes as low as possible and undermining the foundations of our liberal democracy.

In summary, during our 250-year experiment with a representative democracy, the USA had done pretty well in spite of the inevitable “inefficiencies” associated with the concept that every citizen should have a say in it’s management. The government of the USA is presently in a perilous state, however, in that it could conceivably be changed from a democracy to an autocracy. One of our two political parties seems to favor such changes.  I started with a quote from Ben Franklin and will close by adding to it a few words from Winston Churchill: “a democracy is the worst form of government there is – except for all the others”.  And as Franklin warned, it does, indeed, require a lot of work to “keep it”.  The USA must be made sufficiently wise and strong as to successfully address the formidable set of problems before it. Unless Jesus Christ himself expresses an interest in the management of our country, we should continue to support the next best option, a free representative democracy.


Responses

  1. Once again Eric, you have succeeded, by using specific, relevant, examples, of how a few political decisions made by some mis-guided individuals with support from their “followers” have resulted in pain and suffering for those not directly involved in the decision making. But again, as you point out, the stakes have never been higher with this group of Republicans in our Congress today. Their blind eye to the lies, deceptions, and undemocratic ideology of this failed, narcissistic, former real estate agent, Donald Trump, will be the beginning of the demise of our beloved country’; and that same democracy that has survived for 250 years will disappear right before our eyes. Like you, and others like you, who are using your platforms, to sound the alarm. I just hope that someone out there is listening before it’s too late. Keep up the good fight!!!!

  2. The democratic party has to do a lot better job of pointing out the choice between Republican puppets and Democratic principles. I’ll take the principles — as messy as they play out — any day. It works well in nature to be inclusive of diversity – in fact, it’s the only thing that works in my opinion. That means diversity of opinions and people with proper regard for the impact to our entire living systems by all our actions. Only the Democrats seems to care about life on the planet. All life. Your examples demonstrate our tendency to try to ‘control’ outcomes which to me demonstrates little faith in the principles of democracy and willingness to see that we are a part of a bigger story. The election of Joe Biden was a moment when the choice appeared clear to many more people.

    • Wow, really good words here, and I agree that the Democrats seem to be “shy” in taking credit for the good that they try to do even under these adverse political circumstances. It’s time to pull out all the stops as the stakes could NOT be higher! Let’s start reminding the voting public of our accomplishments in spite of the far rights efforts to hide them under their onslaught of lies and denials of the reality of truth !


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