January 15, 2021
Community Voices / Democracy in America
Salish Current readers

In another tumultuous time, there was much to debate at the signing of the U.S. Constitution; depicted by Howard Chandler Christy.

January 15, 2021
Community Voices / Democracy in America
Salish Current readers

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We live in tumultuous times. Last weekend Salish Current asked people of various political persuasions to write about the state of our country’s democracy in advance of the inauguration. (See Editor’s Desk, Jan. 15, 2021). We present below the responses we received by publication deadline.

  • Floyd McKay: Nixon and Trump, 1974 and 2020
  • Jennifer Sefzik: Uniting a House Divided Against Itself
  • Tony Angell: Democracy Is Not a Spectator Sport

The views expressed in the essays, analyses and opinions as Community Voices are those of the authors exclusively and not those of Salish Current

Community Voices / Democracy in America: Nixon and Trump, 1974 and 2020

By Floyd McKay

Floyd McKay
Floyd J. McKay, emeritus professor of journalism at Western Washington University, covered Pacific Northwest politics as a reporter and opinion writer for four decades, primarily in Oregon. He was commentator/news analyst at KGW-TV (King Broadcasting) from 1970 to 1987. Previously a print reporter, he returned to print and online reporting and commentary from 2004 to 2017 with the Seattle Times op-ed page and Crosscut.com. He is the author of Reporting the Oregon Story: How Activists and Visionaries Transformed a State (Oregon State University Press, 2016). He lives in Bellingham. 

In six decades as a reporter, commentator and professor, I have seen only two occasions when I feared for the future of our country.

The first began in 1968, with the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., and rioting and anarchy that emanated from Vietnam, racial justice and more. It culminated in the Watergate scandal of 1974.

The second began in 2016 and culminated last Wednesday at the nation’s capitol in Washington, D.C., and we have not seen its end, not by a long shot.

The turmoil of 1968 gave us President Richard Nixon, who was forced to resign in 1974 in the face of certain impeachment and conviction. 

Nixon did not leave gracefully, but he did leave. There is no grace in Donald J. Trump, and he has not left. In many ways, the crisis he caused is a more serious threat than the criminality of Nixon’s Watergate gambit.

In the wake of Watergate there was no armed mob ready to storm the barricades. There was no audience of millions blindly accepting the outright lies and fantasies of a mentally unstable president rather than the unanimous statements of fact by the nation’s law-enforcement and intelligence agencies and the entire mainstream news media. Worse yet, an opportunistic and cynical wing of the Republican Party, including members of Congress, continues to support Trump’s lies and conspiracy theories. It is not over.

Both in the case of President Nixon and President Trump, I was proud to be a member of the news media. In the case of Watergate, the reporting of the Washington Post and New York Times led the exposure of Nixon and his henchmen. Half a century later, these newspapers were again at the forefront of exposing Trump and his enablers. 

Why is the present outrage more dangerous to democracy than Watergate? Nixon had many faults, but he governed in a rational manner, upholding traditional norms of our system. Trump began an onslaught on normalcy four years ago, declaring an “American carnage” that only he could fix. His assault on truth, normality and plain decency finally produced the carnage he had predicted. It was ruthless and ongoing, even today.

The other major difference is the level of enabling conduct at the very top of our government. Richard Nixon was forced to resign after Sen. Barry Goldwater and other Republican senators faced him in the Oval Office and told him it was resign or be removed from office. There has been no such confrontation with Trump, as this is written, and no certainty that he would listen if there was such an event. No guns were brandished in the Capitol in 1974, and no one died in a mob invasion of the chambers of House and Senate.

Last week, a rump caucus of Republican enablers denied on the floors of Congress the plain truth of the November election results, even as the mob stormed the Capitol. The full damage and implications of the violence continues to unfold, yet the cult-like obeisance that Donald Trump holds even on members of Congress will be with us into the uncertain future.

Thanks to forms of media Nixon never imagined, Trump was almost able to prevail. His fantasy crashed last week, but it lives on in the warped minds of people like those who stormed our Capitol, and — tragically — in the damaged mind of a president.

We still have a long way to go before this madness is tamed.

Community Voices / Democracy in America: Uniting A House Divided Against Itself

By Jennifer Sefzik

Jennifer Sefzik and her family live in Whatcom County and love the beauty of the Pacific Northwest. They moved here 12 years ago for the final years of child raising and those three are now in college. Her background is a business degree from Texas A&M and 20 successful years in sales and marketing. Their family has been active in youth development through mentoring and coaching debate clubs around Washington state. This past year Jennifer was a first-time candidate for State House of Representatives in the 42nd Legislative District.

For the past 36 years, every President has given their State of the Union addresses and declared “The Union is strong.” Given the events of the past nine months, can we make that statement today? In fact, is the word “union” even appropriate with so little unity?

More than any point in my lifetime, we are a divided country and it is on full display. In the Pacific Northwest we have seen a Federal Court House repeatedly attacked, Portland under siege and an area of Seattle declared its own country. To start the New Year, the U.S. Capitol has been attacked.

These events represent different groups with different agendas but seem to fall into two camps. One believes that our present form of government is illegitimate and that the country is so racist and inequitable that it must be rebuilt. The other faction believes America is still a beacon of hope, but the government has grown too big and powerful. As a result, our rights have been eroded, even to the extent that the 2020 Presidential election was stolen.

The backdrop is that we are under attack by an invisible enemy. Even here, we cannot agree. Some believe that no matter the cost, we must lock down and if we can save even one life it’s worth the cost. Others believe that the cure is far worse than the disease and that death is a normal risk of being free.

Many are angry at the government as their life’s work has been destroyed. Small landlords face foreclosure as they are forced to give free rent, even to those who could pay but simply won’t. Local business owners whose tax revenues fund the government wonder why government employees get raises while they aren’t allowed to make a living. Some people have profited as they’ve received full pay plus stimulus checks while others have suffered. COVID has accelerated our fracture for the entire world to see.

Most of us were happy to see 2020 pass in the hope for a better 2021, but the latest outbreak of COVID has many worried. I fear a far greater enemy: censorship and the loss of our First Amendment rights. We can debate whether censorship by private companies is a First Amendment issue, whether these companies deserve special protections, etc., but I hope we can all agree that limiting the opinions to favor one faction over the other is not a good idea. And whether or not one agrees with the President of the United States, whomever that might be, the idea that a handful of powerful individuals can largely silence him or her is frightening.

During this past year, I had the privilege of being a candidate for the state Legislature. It was hard work. The part I enjoyed most was walking neighborhoods and listening to people. I was disappointed at times by some who were rude, hostile and even vile toward me simply because of the party I represent. They censored me, simply because of my party affiliation. But I was encouraged by those with whom I could dialogue, and we respectfully disagreed. We may not have changed each other’s minds, but we learned from each other. Together we took a small step toward a more civil society, the kind where neighbors can talk to each other. The kind of society where listening is valued above yelling.

Censorship will not make us stronger and it won’t make us better informed. It is a dagger in the heart of freedom and perhaps one of the greatest attacks on democracy that we face. If you agree with everything you are hearing, you may be self-censoring. I invite you to find alternate sources too. That source might be your next-door neighbor or the co-worker down the hall. Perhaps it’s time to talk to them and try to understand. Even if no minds are changed, it may help our next President be able to say, “the Union is strong.”

Community Voices / Democracy in America: Democracy Is Not a Spectator Sport

By Tony Angell

Tony Angell
Tony Angell is an artist, environmental educator and writer of award-winning books. He sculpts in bronze and stone, and has shown his work for over 50 years. He’s also the author and illustrator of many books on the subject of the natural world. Among his many public commissions, his work is at Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo, the Seattle Aquarium, the City of Redmond, the Mount Baker Ski Area, Sleeping Lady in Leavenworth and the public libraries of Bainbridge and Lopez islands. He lives in Seattle and retreats on Lopez Island as often as he can. (Photo © Lee Rolfe)

Last week’s insurrectionists considered themselves righteous patriots, defenders of the legitimacy of their elected leader, Donald Trump.

But the raucous assembly we witnessed launching an assault on our nation’s Capitol was not a purposeful citizen participation in democracy.  What I saw and heard stirred me with frustration, anxiety and sadness.  It clarified the terrible fragility of our democracy, that its strength and endurance require our constructive and purposeful support.

I’ve taken for granted that the system will prevail, and while I’ve extended myself through my artistic and environmental work, I’ve fallen short of acknowledging the benefits our government has granted myself, my family and community.  Finding further avenues of positive engagement is a means to remedy the ills our democracy suffers, while also restoring its strength.

This current turmoil took shape and gathered momentum over the past several years.  In this interim, I’ve learned more about the provisions of our Constitution than I ever did in my formal educational experiences.  I now have a far better focus on developing the skills necessary to apply my responsibilities as citizen.

As we know, a wide-ranging list of issues demand our participation, from racial and social justice to economic disparities and environmental ills. The paths of participation are many and can be tailored to our talents and inclinations. I’ve found that committing to environmental issues has provided me relief that my efforts matter.  Equally important, in this time of divisiveness, I’m allied with others behind a common purpose, regardless of perceived differences. 

For the new year 2021, I’ve chosen two areas where I can weigh in with the resources I have at hand.  They’re precious to all and deserve our support and engagement.  Along with strengthening the social fabric of our culture, progress made in these areas will go a long way in addressing the many other challenges our democracy faces.

  • Developing the capacity to communicate thoughtfully, respectfully and truthfully

Recent nonspecific shouts, lies, and non-sequiturs of people in power have been misleading and destructive.   That they provided fuel for extremist positions, there can be no doubt.  My commitment as a citizen is to vigorously support the funding of those K-12 education programs that emphasize developing kids’ capacities to communicate thoughtfully, respectfully and truthfully.  This not only means helping students develop skills of expressing their ideas but equipping them with the tools to research for fact, listen carefully and evaluate with precision.  These abilities should be not simply a possibility but a responsibility for full, purposeful education.

The strength of the democracy is based on the ability of its citizens not only to get involved, but to do so with a basic intellectual skill set to think rationally and base their thinking on facts, not emotion.  As we’ve seen, it’s not innate but must be taught.

  • Uniting to address the condition of our natural environment

I continue to see opportunities to unite locally or worldwide to address the enormous challenges affecting our well-being:  the condition of our natural environment.  It’s obvious that we all require clean air and water, nutrient rich soils, oxygen producing forests with their diversity of life, and an ocean with its life-sustaining resources. Our interest and support are essential to their restoration.

The organizations representing these areas of environmental concern are many and the opportunities to find your local community commitment are many.  From my experience, affiliating in some way brings many rewards.  There’s much satisfaction in working to restore, steward and sustain one’s local environment in company with others, elbow to elbow.   Working together is part of strengthening and sustaining democracy.

We can all apply ourselves to these and other areas, whether with monetary contributions, shared knowledge, or voluntary sweat equity.  With action, we’ll no longer be wringing our hands in frustration from the sidelines, wondering what to do.   We can unite, shoulder to shoulder, with a range of folks who share a common interest, humanity, and responsibility to maintain our democratic ideals. 

We welcome letters to the editor responding  to or amplifying on subjects addressed in Community Voices. If you wish to contribute to Community Voices, please send an email with a subject proposal to Managing Editor Mike Sato (msato@rockisland.com) and he will respond with guidelines.