Remember in 2016 when an armed Oregon militia group, led by Ammon and Ryan Bundy, occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Princeton, Oregon? They viewed the federally managed land as an encroachment on their land use rights as ranchers and as an example of the federal government’s overreach in asserting its authority against the people.
When the militia solicited public support for their occupation, they were barraged with packages of dildos through the mail—to their great dismay. They responded in videos, yelling “STOP SENDING US DILDOS!” They looked like the idiots they were.
The tactic of sending dildos, as I’ve elaborated elsewhere, was a brilliant and joyous act of resistance to the armed takeover of public lands, building on a long tradition of using humor as a form of non-violent resistance to armed force.
As the nation watches—or perhaps ignores—the current impeachment hearings, the outcome of which will reveal much about whether the nation’s political leadership will endorse or undo an autocratic regime that has sought to undermine U.S. democracy, we have to connect the dots of several recent events which, assessed together, highlight the very ever-increasing threat to our democracy and the individual and collective rights our system bestows on us.
Dildos simply will not be enough this time. As much as laughter and humor can fuel resistance, we require an alertness and a “woke”-ness to the destruction of democracy happening before our eyes well beyond, though no doubt encouraged and ignited by, Trump’s complete disregard for the Constitution, basic laws, civil rights, and the norms and procedures of democracy.
Here are just a few recent examples—dots to connect—that make clear the disregard for and destruction of democracy in our country that, more than a threat or worry for the future, is an actuality.
*Let’s return to Oregon where last June Republican state senators fled the statehouse and went into hiding to prevent a vote on a climate change bill to establish a carbon cap to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Despite the Democrats enjoying a majority, without some Republicans present the quorum necessary to even allow a vote was lacking. While this behavior disregards the truism that elections have consequences, to be fair this tactic has been used in the past by Democrats and Republicans alike as attempts to spur conversation and compromise to give the minority party a voice. In 2011, Democratic lawmakers in Wisconsin absconded to Illinois to avoid a vote on a bill designed to eviscerate collective bargaining rights for public employees. These lawmakers eventually returned and had to endure Governor Scott Walker’s bull-dozing of workers’ democratic rights. Earlier this year, the same Oregon Senators pulled the same stunt in order to garner a compromise on another piece of legislation.
The shenanigans last June, though, reached a new level of defiance of democracy—and did not receive much national press coverage.
When Governor Kate Brown indicated she was contemplating deploying state troopers to round up the derelict senators, Senator Brian Boquist threatened to shoot and potentially kill any troopers who sought to apprehend him, telling the superintendent of the state police, “Send bachelors and come heavily armed. I’m not going to be a political prisoner in the state of Oregon. It’s just that simple.”
And the police received what they believed to be credible threats from militias around the state that the state capitol would be stormed in defense of these senators.
Let’s think about this situation and Boquist’s language. He said he wouldn’t “be a political prisoner in the state of Oregon.” And yet he’s the one not following governmental rules and breaking the law! This kind of dangerous and Orwellian language play echoes that in which we see Trump engage. As I’ve written about in the pages of PoliticusUsa, Trump refers to the process of impeachment, clearly detailed by our founders in the Constitution as a necessary mechanism to preserve our democracy against autocratic abuses of power, as a coup; that is, he presents democratic behavior as mob-like violations of democratic order and his own thuggish illegalities as normative.
In Oregon, democracy has been rejected by the likes of Boquist, who simply want their way and will engage in armed violence to get it—or at least threaten to.
*And remember last September 11 in North Carolina when House Republicans held a surprise vote to override the Governor’s veto of a two-year budget. Democrats, who were attending a 9/11 memorial service, were told there would be no votes that day until the afternoon, and no votes were on the legislative docket. Republicans secretly convened early in the morning to vote on the override. House Speaker Tim Moore told CBS, “It’s a great day for North Carolina.”
But not a great day for democracy. Like Boquist, North Carolina Republicans simply want their way; they don’t want democracy.
They don’t care if “winning” their way means losing democracy.
*And finally we need to look to the Supreme Court, now featuring two Trump appointees. The protection of civil rights in the U.S. is not looking too promising at the moment. As I’ve written about in PoliticusUsa, the Supreme Court will decide the major civil rights question regarding whether or not gay and transgender people are protected under federal legislation that outlaws employment discrimination “on the basis of sex,” the nature of the debates and the questions raised from the bench recently when attorneys for both sides presented arguments do not reflect well on this nation’s supposed commitment to civil rights.
Democracy’s basic elements are being eroded from within the system, as if democracy’s destruction can be validated by the democratic process itself.
This erosion is not just a function of a rot at the top Trump’s impeachment can cure. It’s happening from coast to coast in our local governments. We must connect these dots.
Dildos will not be enough to save democracy. Citizen action and attention is now required.
Tim Libretti is a professor of U.S. literature and culture at a state university in Chicago. A long-time progressive voice, he has published many academic and journalistic articles on culture, class, race, gender, and politics, for which he has received awards from the Working Class Studies Association, the International Labor Communications Association, the National Federation of Press Women, and the Illinois Woman’s Press Association.