Discover more from Constant Commoner
Democracy is in Our DNA
Americans will never let it die.
On the day I was born, September 17, 1937, the country celebrated the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Constitution. When I realized the connection, sometime after I became an adult (slow learner), I found it kind of thrilling. I’ve always been a sucker for celebrating my country, for flying our flag, for pledging allegiance (before the ‘God’ part), for defending the best parts of who we are.
I was four years old when WWII began and eight when it ended. In what seemed like an instant, we as a nation were expected to make sacrifices. We weren’t used to that, but we did it. I smashed tin cans and tied up newspapers and bought War Savings Stamps at school. My parents saved scraps, patched old tires, and drank chicory-laden coffee. They began rationing goods and food, and they kept the lights on low.
All so we could help the war effort.
My dad, a Canadian, became a US citizen so he could work in the Tank Arsenal in Detroit. Our lives in those few years changed radically, along with everyone else in the United States. With few exceptions—there are always cheaters and opportunists—the citizens of this country came together and gave up their comforts so our plentiful resources could go toward building a formidable military force that would end a deadly world war based on nothing more than one man’s desire to dominate.
When the war was over, when times were good again, Detroit boomed and our lives moved forward. I remember the 1949 race riots only as a child does, hearing from my white parents that I didn’t have to worry. Nobody was coming after us. It took the stark realities of the civil rights movements to cement the truth—that there were Black children who DID have to worry, who had spent their childhoods subjected to deprivation and humiliation while I had gone on, happy and oblivious to that kind of hate.
It changed me.
I married my husband on July 14, 1956. (Bastille Day. Yes.) I fell in love with him for many reasons, but one in particular—his very liberal belief that white people and rich people weren’t entitled to anything special—told me this was a good man, a good American.
Being a good American was essential to me, even at the young age of 18. Not that I knew exactly what being a Good American might mean. I didn’t. But he had joined the Marines when he was 19 and serving his country meant something to him. It did until the day he died, on March 16, 2022. He was always a proud Marine. He believed, as I did, that we owe something to our country, and fighting for our collective well-being is the least we could do.
I didn’t go on to serve in any official capacity, but, like millions of other Americans, the right to vote was ingrained in me. My father took me with him to the polling places when I was small enough to be lifted in his arms while he checked off the boxes on his ballot. After many trips to the voting booth I came away knowing this union man would always vote exclusively for those who understood the obligations of a democracy and would keep the working class strong and the citizens whole.
I’m telling you this so you’ll know where I’m coming from and why I believe democracy will always win, but before you scoff at my naivete—I admit it does read that way—you should know I’ve been wide awake about politics since those early days when I believed wholeheartedly that we Americans would always do the right thing.
We don’t always do the right thing, of course, and we never will. We’ve made some colossal blunders, some terrible decisions, all in the name of patriotism or nationalism or whatever it says about us as citizens of a country still growing, still learning, still trying to figure out what it is that’s best for us.
We’ve done a piss-poor job of it lately. We’re a mess and it looks like we’ll only get messier. Some of us are ready to give up while others of us are planning to do away with every shred of constitutional protection in favor of embracing a steadily encroaching oligarchical dictatorship.
Still others of us see the current political climate as a battle worth fighting. Our future as a republic is at stake. Democracy is at stake. The political shenanigans, the threats to voters, the corruption of the courts, the attacks on public education, the emergence of theocrats in the halls of Congress, the end of the right to live our own lives—this can’t, this won’t go on.
I stand with democratic solutions, with constitutional rights, with ethics and the law, and I’m nowhere near alone in that. Millions of Americans are standing with me. Our rights are being torn away by people who have never earned a place of power in this country. They don’t understand what it means to be an American. They don’t deserve to govern.
We can survive without democracy, but we can’t thrive. In the story of our country democracy prevails. It needs work—we know that—and it needs support. Democracy needs to live.
We’ve been a democracy for far too long to give it up now. We’re still learning how to make it work for everyone— an ongoing process—but it’s within us to keep it going. It’s in our DNA—in every one of us, whether or not we were born here.
To be an American is to believe in a democratic, constitutional system of governing, to believe that citizenship requires duty, to believe that our freedoms don’t extend to those who abuse them and do harm.
We believe the law will prevail.
The days ahead will try us down to our very souls. We’ll need to be ready for them. We’ll need to remember who we are.
I’d completely forgotten I’d written something very much like this in March, 2021. I found it just now while I was looking for something else. Rather than throw this piece out, I’m going to share that one. I wish I could say I’ll never have to write about this again.
Constant Commoner is here because you are. If you haven’t already, you can regularly receive new posts and support my work by becoming a free or paid subscriber. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.