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The gathering storm

December 24, 2022

As 2022 comes to a close, modern civilization finds itself on shaky ground. Liberal democracies are facing a challenge to their core values of liberty, equality and fraternity — and science and reason — the likes of which the world hasn’t seen in 77 years.

The spread of rightwing extremism, the invasion of Ukraine and an American president’s brazen attempts to overturn an election, documented meticulously by the House of Representatives’ Jan. 6 committee, have cast a pall of gloom.

The pervasive attacks on democracy smell of an era when books were burned, paintings destroyed, and the Axis powers tried to overrun the planet and impose dictatorships founded on theories of racial superiority.

It’s as though everything we imbibed from a liberal education is being questioned and ridiculed — freedom, mutual respect, social and intellectual progress, and the benefits of science and research.

We seem to have forgotten our debt to the thousands of young men and women who were drafted in the prime of their youth into the Second World War to face Nazi fire, who won the freedom we cherish today.

The truth is, had Germany beaten the United States to the atomic bomb, the story might have been quite different.

Today, nuclear weapons are already in the possession of the aggressors, and the possibility of a catastrophe is real. Driven to the wall, a Putin or Kim il Jung could easily use them as a last resort.

Yet, faith in science, democracy and freedom is what saved the world from Hitler’s depredations in the first half of the 20th century. And faith in science, democracy and freedom is what will save us from the ghosts of fascism, hatred and pseudoscience today.

The freedom we enjoy was a result of sacrifices by the Greatest Generation, those brave young men and women who brought Nazi Germany to its knees. But we need the courage to preserve and protect that unappreciated legacy.

The challenges we face in America are a last-ditch attempt by diehards who are convinced they have no alternative but to go rogue. They have decided to work tirelessly within open democratic institutions like elections, courts and legislatures — and if possible, the executive — to subvert the rule of law, just the way Hitler stormed the Bundestag and destroyed the Weimar Republic in one fell swoop.

Dismissing the criticism of governmental moves to undo the right to vote through gerrymandering and legislation as partisan rancor would be a fatal mistake. There is no neutral side in this dispute. You cannot passively witness the dismantling of democracy and not be an enabler in its demise.

Fortunately, the results of the midterm elections and the runoff in Georgia show that a majority of voters recognize that. These are areas where people were hard hit by pocketbook issues like inflation and home prices, yet realize the value of freedoms that can never be taken for granted.

Now it’s up to those who believe in abusing power to deprive voters of their constitutional rights to see reason and roll back their regressive laws.

If they don’t, they run the risk of being left on the wrong side of history as demographic changes sweep this country.

After all, we the people are the ones who elected them, and we are the ones who can eventually reject them.

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