We are coming up on a momentous event in the form of the 2018 midterm elections. They offer the real possibility of overturning the Republican control of Congress, and thus ending the subordination of Congress to the president and the return of the checks and balances that were expected by the Founders to prevail indefinitely.
The grand scheme of the Constitution was a tripartite balance of authority and power in which each of the three pillars of the republic — Congress, the Executive and the Judiciary – would interact is a way that prevented any one of the pillars from overpowering the others. The Founders were not, of course, expecting a situation to arise in which a single political party would gain control of all three branches of the federal government and in which the members of that party would place the interests of that party above the welfare of the country. But that’s what we have and it is that which threatens the continued existence of the democracy that makes the United States a country of unequaled achievement.
Of course, the journey of American democracy has not been straight and pure. We fought a bloody Civil War to end slavery, struggled to end Jim Crow, and struggled to establish racial equality and opportunity in education, voting, employment, human relations and all the rest. Then we elected an African American man to be president. Twice. Many of us thought we had, at long last, moved past our past. We were wrong. Trump’s ascendancy has exposed the ugly underbelly of the nation’s bigotry, fear and cruelty. You know the story or you wouldn’t be reading this.
So, what to do? We don’t want to fight another civil war. Obviously, everyone needs to vote and help someone else vote. I have harped on this repeatedly and I won’t repeat it here. Instead, I suggest an additional approach: look at this as an exercise in tug o’war.
On the other end of the rope is the Trump administration. We all await, with hope and apprehension, Special Prosecutor Mueller’s action on the core issue of Trump’s illegitimate election victory as a product of Russian interference in which Trump and his campaign actively conspired. There is also a large body of evidence that Trump has committed multiple “high crimes and misdemeanors” which would support his impeachment and removal from office.
None of that is going to be resolved by November and the pull on the other end of the rope is strong. Many Americans believe that Trump is an ideal executive, disregarding his serial lying, attacks on our allies and sucking up to dictators around the world. They seem to be untroubled by his attachment to Vladimir Putin and his amateurish, schoolyard bullying of private companies and foreign countries.
On our end of the rope, we have … the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU. Think about that name: Civil Liberties Union. Since its inception, preservation of civil liberties and enforcement of the Constitution have been the singular preoccupation of this group. Sometimes the ACLU defended the rights of genuinely and widely unpopular people or groups, but they persisted because they understood that if the rights of one are disregarded, the rights of all could be next. We simply cannot pick and choose who gets protected and who does not.
If you are like me and have at one time or another made a donation to some #RESISTANCE group, you are no doubt being bombarded by requests to sign petitions and, more importantly, to donate more. Many great organizations are doing important work to resist the Trump administration’s fear-based agenda. Common Cause comes to mind. And Everytown for Gun Safety. And many others. The question is: which rope are you going to pull on?
I suppose I am prejudiced in favor of an organization that directly and forcefully challenges the illegal conduct of the administration at every turn and that wins most of its cases. The ACLU has initiated or joined most of the major legal challenges to the Trump administration’s most outrageous acts and policies and has enjoyed amazing success.
The ACLU record is genuinely remarkable. As reported in a major article in the New York Times Magazine on July 8, in the 15 months following the Trump election “victory,” ACLU membership increased by more than four times! A huge increase in funding followed, leading to the hiring of more lawyers for the 54 affiliated offices (1 in each state with 3 in California and one each in Washington, DC and Puerto Rico). But, the article notes, there are 11,000 lawyers in the Justice Department.
Since Trump’s oath of office, the ACLU has initiated 170 Trump-related actions, including 83 lawsuits. The additional resources have enabled ACLU to start two new advocacy organizations: PeoplePower.org and Let People Vote. With the new threat to the independence of the Supreme Court, the ACLU will face even more challenges.
Therefore, I make this appeal: yes, support all political and charitable organizations whose values align with yours, but also make an additional contribution to the ACLU. ACLU enlists the aid of the third and most independent branch of government, the Judiciary, to fight the incompetence and cruelty demonstrated repeatedly by the Trump administration. So far, the administration has accepted judicial decisions as binding. If that changes, we will have entered a new and perhaps final battle for the salvation of the American democracy. Until then, and, hopefully, that day never comes, the ACLU’s direct legal actions may be the last best hope for effectively resisting the Trump administration until we can remove him from office.