Norman Lear on Political Decay, Election Day and Eternal Vigilance (Guest Column)

Art Streiber
Norman Lear

The real estate mogul may be a particularly painful and embarrassing outbreak, but the underlying disease that has allowed him to flourish has become a chronic condition.

Like any sane American, I cannot wait until this election is over.

Of course, I will only breathe easier if the outcome is a resounding defeat for Donald Trump, because the alternative would be a disaster for our country and our Constitution. But even if Donald Trump is defeated, I fear that Trumpism is infectious and my relief could be short-lived.

Clearly, our democracy is not healthy. If it were, the Donald would not be in serious contention for the presidency. It is surely a sign of societal sickness that America could strongly consider electing a man with so little common decency and so little respect for the country’s ideals. It is surely a sign of democratic decay that millions of Americans are supporting a man who so clearly expresses his contempt for a free press and his admiration for the “strength” shown by freedom-crushing dictators.

Before this year, I would have thought you were hallucinating if you’d have told me that we would have a presidential campaign happily making use of information stolen by Russian intelligence services in order to sway the election. I would have checked to see if I was feverish if you told me that we would have white nationalists excitedly running robocalls on behalf of a presidential campaign.

But what’s making me break out in a cold sweat is not just the Donald. If Trump is the disease in this metaphor, it is clear that he’s virulently contagious, because so many of his fellow Republicans are exhibiting the same symptoms, including a reckless disregard for democratic institutions and a dangerously elevated willingness to put partisan interests above the good of the country.

It has been bad enough that Republicans in the Senate have refused all year to even give a hearing to Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland. Years ago, Republicans celebrated him as a potential justice, but this year they justified their blockade of his nomination by saying the American people should have a say in the next Supreme Court.

But now that the people are about to have that say, several senators are suggesting that if Americans elect Hillary Clinton, Republicans will block any and all Supreme Court nominees for as long as she is in the White House. To borrow from Bill Maher, here’s a new rule: If you are willing to decree that only Republican presidents are allowed to fill vacancies on the federal bench, then you aren’t allowed to posture as a defender of the Constitution.

I’m sorry to say that some Republicans in the House of Representatives show no more respect for the democratic process. Instead we have gleeful hand-rubbing over the prospect of endless investigations. We have members of congress talking about impeaching Clinton even before she is elected.

And I can’t decide whether I’m more saddened or angry about the FBI returning to the dangerous practices of its discredited past, leaking secret information and planting false stories in order to try to destroy a disfavored political figure. Of course, Trump World sees no problem. Giuliani eagerly makes use of information leaked to him. Kellyanne Conway gloats that a lie repeated by her boss doesn’t need to be retracted because it has done its damage.

And while Trump and his allies risk provoking violent reactions by suggesting without evidence that the election is being stolen from him, Republicans in state after state are openly, sometimes in defiance of court orders, trying to sway the election in their party’s favor by denying African Americans and others the ability to cast a vote. And Trump’s allies threaten to send armed intimidation teams into Democratic areas to discourage people from voting.

The more I think about it, Trump may be a particularly painful and embarrassing outbreak, but the underlying disease that has allowed him to flourish has become a chronic condition, feeding on fear, bigotry and misinformation. Defeating Trump on November 8 is essential, but restoring our political culture to health will require the kind of long-term treatment that only a creative, courageous and committed citizenry can provide.

If eternal vigilance is indeed the price of liberty, this Election Day presents us with a crucial opportunity to take action on behalf of our freedom and our future.

Norman Lear is a legendary television and film producer and the founder of People For the American Way. 

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