by CHRISTINE BARBOUR & JERRY WRIGHT
We are political science professors at Indiana University. As part of our jobs, we co-authored an Introduction to American Government textbook called Keeping the Republic (Congressional Quarterly Press). The book was written for this moment, but it was a moment we didn’t seriously think would come during the book’s lifetime. Or ours.
The gist is that democracies are not Energizer bunnies, running forever like perpetual motion machines. Democracies wind down. They get sloppy. They get perverted so that the will served is not the popular will, but that of those who can manipulate the system. Democracies can wither, as Barack Obama said at the Democratic National Convention. And they can die.
Our democracy today is seriously under threat. Not because the Republicans are in power—because Republicans are often as fierce or fiercer in their defense of our Constitution as the Democrats and we desperately need those Constitution-defending Republicans as much as we need Democrats—but because Donald Trump does not value it above his own drive to salvage a fragile ego from criticism. He has broken norm after norm—unwritten understandings and practices that support our system— without noticing or caring. For him, following the rules has always been a sucker’s game. And Trump will go to unholy lengths not to feel like a sucker.
Democrats and Republicans—all of us—in Bloomington and around the country: This is our moment to rise above the partisanship of the last decades and realize we have a common interest in righting the ship, in correcting the course that has brought us here. Of course it is not this simple—it never is—but ultimately, it is only by restoring the constitutional order that we can go back to our regularly scheduled partisan debates and battles. We need those debates—they are the lifeblood of democracy. We should not all agree on everything. And we don’t. And that is good.
But in Donald Trump’s America, disagreeing with Trump will earn you denigration, mockery, humiliation, and, so much worse, the direct attacks of public servants sworn to protect us who are being called in to stomp on the necks of their fellow citizens. That way lies the sabotage of our national character and the death of our Constitution.
Obama told us to make a plan. A plan is essential to save this thing we all love—a plan about how to register and request and submit a ballot in a timely way, but also a plan to contact fellow voters and urge them to do the same. We need to engage in phone banking, text writing, even filling out postcards—every mode of communication we have in this time of limited personal contact.
It’s time. It’s critical. Let’s get busy.