America’s Freedom Hinges on the Survival of its Democracy

3 January, 2022
Sandow Birk, “The Effects of Good Government,” 2020. acrylic on canvas, 26” x 60” (courtesy Koplin del Rio Gallery, Seattle).

I. Rida Mahmood


America is the land of freedom, no doubt. But lest we forget, it is also the land of moral high ground.


This was the opening sentence of an article published in late 1998 in Snob, a now defunct Lebanese lifestyle magazine (translated here from the Arabic by yours truly). Commenting on the infamous legal battle between Paula Jones and incumbent President Bill Clinton, the author of that article enviously congratulated Americans on their ability to sue a sitting president while we, living in a real-world version of George Orwell’s Oceania, could not dare to dream of attempting such a feat.

The lawsuit led to a landmark legal precedent by the U.S. Supreme Court, Clinton v. Jones, 520 U.S. 681 (1997), which rejected Clinton’s claim to presidential immunity and established that a sitting US president is not immune from litigation. One remarkable figure involved in the legal proceedings was none other than Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Brett Kavanaugh, who then was an Associate Counsel in the office of Kenneth W. Starr – which published the referral to impeach Clinton known as the Starr Report. At the time, Kavanaugh made it clear that he strongly opposed the president’s appeal to immunity, described it as an obstruction of justice, and pushed for asking Clinton graphic questions about his sexual conduct with Monica Lewinsky.

Yet this advocacy for transparency and equality seems to have gone out the window since Trump forced his way into the Oval Office. The Supreme Court’s changing attitude became most apparent during the Russia investigation of 2018 and continues to unfold every day. A case in point is the impertinent absence of any legal action against the maestro of the January 6th insurrection as it approaches its first anniversary.

Sandow Birk, “The Effects of Bad Government,” 2020. acrylic on canvas, 26” x 60” (courtesy of Koplin del Rio Gallery, Seattle).


The whole nation tuned in as he stood at the White House Ellipse on January 6th, 2021, marshalling an angry mob of “Stop the Steal” members, in the final act of throttling democracy. “And we fight,” he said. “We fight like hell, and if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.”

Then he gave them more specific directions. “We’re going to walk down Pennsylvania Avenue. I love Pennsylvania Avenue. And we’re going to the Capitol.” Then, after a brief mention of the “weak ones” among Republicans, he specified the goal of his mission. “We’re going to try and give them the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country” — i.e., declare Trump victorious despite the glass ballot box.

Luckily, they failed.

What followed was nothing short of a political farce that calls to mind the “who will bell the cat” anecdote. There was an impeachment trial followed by an acquittal, on the grounds that impeachment was not the way to go when there is enough evidence of criminal conduct (remember his demand for 11,000 votes?) to incriminate the former president — or so Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham would like us to believe.

The hypothesis goes something like this: A US president, former or sitting, is not immune from criminal investigation, and the American criminal justice system provides ample room for prosecuting Trump like any other citizen. Yet no serious efforts to start such prosecution have begun, and it looks more and more unlikely with every day that passes, even with the establishment of the House Select Committee. On Dec 23, 2021, Trump countered the committee’s efforts to release his White House records by a petition to halt said efforts. It is now up to the Supreme Court to decide how to deal with the case.

McConnell, Graham, and the other acolytes who voted for Trump’s acquittal are probably trying to stretch out the process until after the midterm elections, which they, for a mysterious reason, strongly believe will win them a majority in both chambers of Congress.

And we can already see where that will lead: Gaslighting of a whole nation.

Speaking of majorities, it is baffling how members of the MAGA cult insist on referring to themselves as the “silent majority.” Perhaps the delusional mob has forgotten that the last two Republican presidents of the US lost the popular vote. They have also forgotten that one of them, George W. Bush, got the presidency with the help of Antonin Scalia, the late Supreme Court justice, who suggested that a recount of votes would cast “a needless and unjustified cloud” over Bush’s legitimacy — if only the same logic was used in the numerous recounts demanded by the inciter-in-chief!

One way to remedy the delusions of the so-called “silent majority” is to stand up to their incessant bullying, lest we become a “silenced majority.”


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