Depending on your perspective, the official erosion of democracy in the United States began at two pivotal times in the mid-20th century. Specifically, under the guidance of former President Dwight Eisenhower, the first inappropriate blurring of government and religion came on June 14, 1954, when Eisenhower was swayed by the efforts of a Baptist minister into placing the words “One Nation Under God” into the pledge of allegiance to the American flag.
Just over two years later on July 30, 1956, Eisenhower continued with his blending of government and theology when he introduced “In God We Trust” as the country’s official motto. It replaced E Pluribus Unum on currency and coinage and sat in motion a chain of events that lead us to where we are today.
None of our country’s dissolution of democracy happened overnight. It was spread across multiple presidencies and generations of voters.
In fact, during the presidencies of John F. Kennedy and then later Lyndon Johnson, democracy in the United States regained a steadier foothold. Jim Crow laws were abolished and the integration of schools became the law of the land. The Civil Rights Act was passed.
But once again, things began to backslide with the election of Richard Nixon.
Nixon and his cohorts set their sights on the conservative voter block of the Southern United States and cashed in on racial tensions and religious zealotry to command much needed votes that kept him in office during part of his second term.
Despite what was the then-president’s successful efforts of straddling the lines of church and state, he was later forced to resign midway through his second term following accusations of purported illegal misconduct in the bugging of the National Democratic Headquarters, which came to be known as Watergate.
While the presidential terms of appointed president Gerald Ford and elected president Jimmy Carter largely passed without incident, Ford did pardon Nixon for his potential involvement with the Watergate scandal, which prevented him from facing prosecution, and in effect, put an American president above the reach of the law.
With the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, the former actor turned California governor turned president was seemingly nothing more than a polished figurehead for the Republican Party at first, however his actions went on to negatively impact democracy in ways previously thought impossible.
In one of his most notorious moves that is often referred to by “Reaganomic” anti-democracy supporters, the president provided enormous tax cuts for large corporations and the wealthy, which left the country with a debt numbering in the hundreds of billions of dollars.
In an effort to balance that, Reagan permanently “borrowed” money from the country’s taxpayer funded social security system. To this day it has never been repaid.
Over the course of the next three decades we saw anti-democracy foot soldiers hard at work on the state and local levels chiseling away at voter districts in an effort to get less democracy-inclined candidates elected to office, despite the fact they were not reflective of the people’s will and certainly not in their best interests.
With over 60 years worth of ground work already in place, Donald Trump’s capturing of the White House in 2016 gave him carte blanche to proceed with a full throttle effort to dismantle this country’s long respected democracy-based government system.
Even though he was roundly voted out of office during the last election, his appointment and approval of activist judges eventually led to the recent and shocking overturning of Roe v. Wade and the reversal of a woman’s right to reproductive choice.
His earlier attempt with the help of riotous supporters to overturn the Biden administration’s confirmed election, during a violent confrontation on January 6, 2021, that led to unprecedented violence at the Capitol, has shown us just how far the anti-democracy element will go to force their fascist agenda onto an unwilling citizenry.
In short, we cannot be complacent. We must organize on every level from local to national. We must work as quickly as possible to motivate every democracy-minded individual to vote during the midterm elections and the next Presidential election to save our country and to maintain the governance that made us respected by nations around the globe.
If we do nothing, the price to pay will be nightmarish and high. A small minority of exceptionally loud anti-democracy forces will seize control of the government, likely dismantling healthcare, social security and forcing American citizens to struggle to survive in ways modern generations had never viewed as imaginable or plausible.
September 15 is known as International Democracy Day and was established by the United Nations General Assembly in 2007 in an effort to help countries around the world stabilize their own democracy-based governments. It is a time where every strong democracy-minded American should engage in conversation with their friends, neighbors and family about the importance of stabilizing and maintaining our own democracy, before it is too late.
As we move towards the midterm elections and later presidential elections, Qnotes will join in on the North Carolina Democracy Project through editorial content in an effort to educate our readers about the importance of upholding the principles of democracy and fulfilling our country’s destiny, as established by its founders, to continue to provide the right to pursue life, liberty and justice, and continue expanding equality for all.
This story was produced as part of the Democracy Day journalism collaborative, a nationwide effort to shine a light on the threats and opportunities facing American democracy. Read more at usdemocracyday.org.