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  • Monica Harris

Anyone Who Thinks Democracy Wasn't in Big Trouble Until Now Hasn't Been Paying Attention

Updated: Oct 9

Our freedoms were on life support long before Trump showed up. But no one was freaking out.




America is in panic mode.


The desperate pleas are almost impossible to avoid. They’re in posts, headlines, and everyday chatter: Donald Trump is a clear and present danger to democracy. He’s delegitimized the electoral process, stifled civil liberties, and threatens to drag the country into fascism. If the man isn’t evicted from the White House on November 3, it’s game-over for America.


We’ve been warned by Hillary Clinton on Twitter: “Trump isn’t running against @ JoeBiden. He’s running against our democracy. Recognize this threat. Call it what it is.”


We’ve been warned by academics in The New York Times: “I Fear that We are Witnessing the End of American Democracy.”


We’ve been warned by armchair alarmists on Medium: “There Are 120 Days Left to Save Democracy.”


It’s fear porn at its finest, and Americans can’t seem to get enough of it. They’re addicted.


There’s no question that democracy has never been in greater danger than it is now; let’s file that under “No Brainers” (somewhere between “climate change” and “middle class extinction”). But what’s amazing is how long it’s taken most Americans to notice. The people who are freaking out about Trump now have apparently been napping for the past 20 years.


These people weren’t freaking out when the Supreme Court twisted the Constitution like a pretzel and handed the presidency to George W. Bush in 2000. They just shook their heads and went on with their lives.


They weren’t outraged when the same man stripped our freedoms under the Patriot Act, conditioning us to travel like livestock and have our personal property ransacked in the same of “safety.” They just grumbled a little and moved on with their lives.


They didn’t tear their hair out when Barack Obama expanded the Patriot Act, creating a surveillance state that now tracks our movements and every email and emoji we send. They just sighed and looked away.


In other words, the people waving red flags now didn’t bat an eye when democracy was repeatedly knifed and sent into a coma decades ago. They ignored clear and convincing evidence that our government has no problem subverting the will of voters and putting our civil liberties on life support. They didn’t freak out. They just kept pretending they lived in a country they didn’t really live in.


Why was it so easy for them to do this? Because of optics.


Because when we have a president who’s articulate, polite to his opponents, and plays nice with the media, people don’t pay attention to what’s really happening. Like babies in a cradle, they’re lulled to sleep.


But if a politically-incorrect, pugnacious, pussy-grabbing loud-mouth slips into the Oval Office? That’s when the optics change. That’s when people “wake” up. That’s when they suddenly become terrified of losing the democracy they left for dead years ago.


Optics are still working on these people, convincing them that if Trump wins, democracy will die and life as we know it will end — poof! But if he loses and we manage to dodge the authoritarian bullet, democracy will recover and life will return to “normal.” Crisis averted. We take our fingers off the panic button.


The irony is that the people who think they’re “woke” now are really still asleep. Fear porn and optics keep them from seeing that Trump — despite all his flaws — isn’t the danger to democracy we’re told he is. There’s a far greater, existential threat that’s been lurking in plain sight for decades, quietly hidden by the optics of well-behaved, politically-correct presidents:


We are being silenced on an epic level.


The silencing of Americans began years ago, but since Trump took office it’s become much more obvious. The silencers have gotten bigger. Stronger. Bolder.


Dissenting voices are being muzzled. Information is being suppressed. Opinions are being censored. But the would-be dictator — the man who is supposedly undermining the foundation of our democracy — isn’t the one muffling our voices. That honor goes to people who wield more power than any president.


The corporations and billionaires controlling 90% of mainstream media have converted these outlets into echo chambers that regurgitate talking points and reinforce prescribed narratives — whether that means getting the masses to support a bogus war or convincing them that a bogus economy is booming. This isn’t a theory, by the way; this is how the media actually operate.


In July 2020, Bari Weiss resigned as an editor of The New York Times to protest a culture of relentless self-censorship. According to Weiss, the once-revered Gray Lady now selects and reports stories to “satisfy the narrowest of audiences, rather than to allow a curious public to read about the world and then draw their own conclusions.” In this environment, job security is virtually guaranteed to writers willing to publish the “4000th op-ed arguing that Donald Trump is a unique danger to the country and the world.” A month later, Ariana Pekary quit her job as producer at MSNBC after realizing that commercial broadcast news has become a “cancer” that “blocks diversity of thought and content.”


Insiders are finally telling us what the “woke” have been ignoring for way too long: independent thought and free speech have gone M.I.A. in mainstream media.


Of course, some of us saw what was happening years ago. We rang alarm bells that no one heard and then quietly turned our backs on these echo chambers. We found a new place to share our thoughts and ideas and get information about our world. We discovered social media. YouTube, Twitter, and even Facebook provided a refuge from the b.s. we heard on TV and read in newspapers that flew in the face of the reality we were living. These online communities allowed us to speak freely. They didn’t require us to pretend.


But those days are gone.


Elites have absorbed the biggest social media platforms, forcing them to adopt the same echo chamber mentality rampant in mainstream media. They shamelessly eradicate any information, opinions, or speculation that goes against the narrative endorsed by “reliable” sources and “experts.” Anyone deviating from the “official” narrative is discredited as a conspiracy theorist or a danger to society.


You Tube removes videos that contain controversial material, Twitter deletes Tweets that cite “unsubstantiated” information, and Facebook blocks posts that violate vaguely-defined “community standards.” There’s no way to appeal these arbitrary decisions. There’s no way to fight back.


Social media giants have become the cyber-equivalent of Seinfeld’s Soup Nazi: “No social network for you!”


Things have gotten so insane that it’s no longer possible to share scientific data and opinions unless they come from “approved” sources or can be “fact-checked” and substantiated by other “approved” sources. That means epidemiologists who propose herd immunity protocols for the pandemic are silenced, as are virologists who speculate on the origins of the virus and doctors who advocate alternative treatments. Just to be clear, we’re not talking about crackpots are nutcases; we’re talking about educated professionals with solid pedigrees and careers who are being muzzled the way intellectuals were in Maoist China 70 years ago.


What’s happening is insane. It’s unfathomable.


This isn’t how how things are supposed to work in a “free” society; being “right” has never been a prerequisite for sharing thoughts and ideas. But that’s what’s happening now. Censorship is being rationalized and normalized in America, and what’s absolutely surreal is that the people who are terrified of Fuhrer Trump — the ones who claim to value freedom and democracy — aren’t up in arms about it. They have nothing to say:


“Yeah, I heard about that.”


“Huh…that’s weird.”


“Ugh. Facebook sucks.”


They accept this siege of free speech as yet another aspect of their “new normal.” Masks, body scans, censorship — all part of what good citizens do to keep the country “safe” from viruses, terrorists, and “fake news.” They reserve their energy and outrage for the next dose of fear porn that will tell them why Trump is endangering democracy in some other, far more dangerous way.


But they also look the other way for another reason, one they probably won’t admit to because it’s too uncomfortable to acknowledge. They’re not bothered by what’s happening because they’re not the ones being silenced.


Watching people they disagree with being suspended or banned is a pesky wrinkle in the fabric of democracy, but they’re okay with it  — because the people being silenced are racist, or stupid, or just plain wrong. And since the media they trust reassures them their POV is “right,” they take comfort in knowing they have allies in their quest to save America. They’re the “good guys,” and good people have the right to speak. Everyone else should just shut the hell up.


The problem is these people are only looking at what’s in front of them right now; they’re not thinking ahead.


They don’t stop to consider the possibility that one day, the media might not be on their side. One day, the sources they turn to for information might not be “approved” by experts or reliable sources, and the opinions they choose to share may not adhere to the dominant “narrative.” The problem with turning a blind eye to censorship in a free society — even when it targets your enemies — is that it’s only a matter of time before the tables turn and you find yourself being silenced. It’s only a matter of time before the candidate or president you support — even if they don’t look or sound like Trump — is perceived as a threat.


For 250 years, elections in the U.S. have come and gone. Parties have seized and lose control, justices have retired and died, laws have been passed and overturned. And America has always been able to recover.


But the danger facing us now  — no matter who wins in November — is one that can finish us off for good. It can end this experiment forever.


If we lose our right to question what we’re told and to freely share information, then we face a far greater threat than Trump. If we surrender our right to object to what’s going wrong in our country and to call out those we believe are responsible, then it won’t matter who’s elected president, who controls Congress, or who’s on the Supreme Court.

If we continue to allow ourselves to be silenced, then voting will become an even bigger charade than it already is.


Free speech is the line between freedom and tyranny, my friends. And right now, that line is razor-thin. This is what we should be freaking out about.


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