All roads lead to 2020
I will never forget the late fall of 1963 when John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Newspapers were filled with mournful headlines, the palpable shock rippled across the nation.
I recall a political cartoon by Bill Mauldin of the Lincoln Memorial: Lincoln, sitting in his massive marble chair, was hunched forward, his face in his hands, grieving. There was no caption below this image for it captured the loss that the nation felt, that I felt, on that day and those days that followed. Kennedy’s presence in the process of governance mattered, our democracy mattered, and letting him go, and all that he represented, proved beyond difficult.
Of late I find myself thinking of Mauldin’s image and I feel a sense of sadness and loss and anger, combined with a belief that we are at an inflection point regarding our democracy, and all roads lead to 2020. We are in a struggle to remain moored to our values, norms, and principles while reminding ourselves who we are as a nation. Look around, really look around, see faces, hear spoken a panoply of last names. We are a nation of immigrants who fundamentally believe in the words E Pluribus Unum, out of many, one. And we know who and what we are is being fundamentally challenged.
Over the last three or so years, for those who have been paying even a modicum of attention, we have experienced what amounts to a prolonged seminar in the infrastructure of our democracy, meaning we are repeatedly made aware not only of the import of the three branches of government but also the necessity of those institutions that make up and govern our republic. And we have been reminded that at the very center of this extraordinary architecture is a promise to regard our Constitution not just as words on parchment but as a sacred pact, codified in its articles and amendments, anchored by our fundamental and inviolate belief that we are a nation of laws and that no one is above the law.
Of course, I acknowledge that our nation has struggled with the application of the law equitably, just as we have struggled to put into practice the aspirational belief that all of us are created equal and therefore should be judged only by the content of our character.
What Trump (and enablers) has done is to take our democracy and give it an unrelenting, reckless stress test wherein this administration continually challenges not only the rule of law but ignores Congress and its role as a co-equal branch of government, essential to the process of checks and balances.
It has become increasingly evident that this administration means to function as an autocracy and considers any restraint by Congress, the courts, or the Fourth Estate as something to be resisted or simply ignored.
Look only at the list of ongoing investigations into this administration which number some 29, dealing with bank fraud, obstruction, money laundering, suborning perjury and lying to federal investigators. As a result, aides have gone to jail (or await sentencing), and “Individual 1” has been named a co-conspirator in a scheme to defraud the voters.
Finally, I’ve heard with increasing frequency, from denizens of Congress as well as media pundits, who use the mafia or mob analogue when referring to Trump and cohorts, framing their comments in RICO terms (the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations act). RICO allows prosecutors to go after enterprises that engage in extended organized criminality, which includes a list of predicate crimes that prosecutors can thread together as evidence of a corrupt organization or a conspiracy.
I believe that if Lincoln were alive today he would indeed place his head in his hands and grieve for the loss of his Republican Party, which has made a demonstrable Faustian bargain, which has at its core raw political power, irrespective of the consequences to our democracy or to the rule of law.
Chris Honoré is an Ashland Tidings columnist.