Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.
Wednesday, August 23, 2017

When Congress returned home, Republicans got clobbered at town hall meetings in red states like Utah, Iowa, and Tennessee. Some even missed Washington.

These scenes made me check up on our democracy’s wellness. Bad news: The body politic’s muscles got flabby in the last 16-17 years. Blood pressure up, and too many Cheetos, not enough kale.

Dazed in November, we woke to a nightmare — a rogue president, now making misery in our land. Abroad, Sweden is mad at his loose talk on refugees and terrorism. Mexico is offended at forceful deportations. It’s safe to say almost all of the world is unhappy.

Note to world: Oh, don’t get us wrong. We’re better than that. Three million more Americans voted for his opponent. The cursed Electoral College struck.

How did citizens let Donald J. Trump rule? Before examining what ails democracy, here’s the happy news: We the people are getting stronger in the spirit of resistance. That’s the cure for what ails us.

American democracy was the envy and the light of the world. In his classic, “Democracy in America,” the French author Alexis de Tocqueville saw the early New England town meeting as a sign of robust self-government. In other words, civic engagement. He praised self-reliance combined with a sense of the common good. That made us great.

Darkness colored the 2000 presidential contest, which George Bush won over Al Gore by one vote, the Supreme Court 5-4 decision. In a period of peace and prosperity, the campaign at times centered on the candidates’ likability over a beer. Texas Gov. Bush, a former fraternity president, was that guy. Yes, but Gore won the people’s vote by a half a million.

We let it be. And then came the worst day since Pearl Harbor. New York’s twin towers burned to dust in the ground and the smoking Pentagon only had four sides at the end of the day – Sept. 11, 2001. Nearly 3,000 died. Many more would have died if civilian New Yorkers and first responders had not shown grace and courage, helping others to safety. It took 19 murderous men, 15 from Saudi Arabia, to attack us from the air. The 40 civilian passengers on the last doomed plane saved the Capitol by rushing the hijacker pilot and taking the plane down to earth. It shattered in a lonely Pennsylvania field under the bluest sky.

Pearl Harbor was a military attack; Sept. 11 was a civilian attack. In late 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt joined World War II and brought out the best in American character.

The sad thing is that Bush, after ignoring intelligence warnings (“blinking red”), did nothing to direct the outpouring of sympathy and citizenship after the Sept. 11 attacks. As San Francisco author Rebecca Solnit wrote, “We were asked to go shopping and to spy on our neighbors.” We got a brand-new behemoth, the Homeland Security department, to mark the millennium.

The war in Iraq was on before the flames of September were out. Bush and his men had “regime change” on their list. So what if Iraq dictator Saddam Hussein wasn’t connected with 9/11? The attacks were the perfect vehicle to start a war and settle a score.

Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction, but Bush presented a false case to the American people. Loyal soldier Colin Powell went to the United Nations and told untruths to the world community — he wasn’t in on the plan.

People did protest Bush’s war in 2003, from San Francisco to Washington. But they were not seen or heard. The press, with pundits praising the war (Thomas Friedman and Christopher Hitchens) silenced voices of dissent. That’s when democracy started going soft and pitch dark.

Electing Barack Obama in 2008 was easy, the cool cat who gave speeches that rocked. In 2016, you had to work harder to judge schoolmarmish Hillary Clinton versus Trump, the dark cable clown. Sadly, Bush’s big lies made our constitution more resistant to Trump’s myriad little lies.

Still, most thought American democracy was healthy enough to do the right thing. And we did, almost. World, don’t give up on us yet. Because it’s clear that resistance is alive and well.

To find out more about Jamie Stiehm and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit creators.com.

IMAGE: People participate in a Women’s March to protest against U.S. President Donald Trump in New York City, U.S. January 21, 2017. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith