Fragile democracy

~a column by Colleen O’Brien

I saw the film “The Post,” which in a nutshell is about our need to protect and champion freedom of the press. Then I saw “Darkest Hour,” which is about Churchill, the Prime Minister of England, who stood up to Hitler’s Nazis as they were about to push the entire English army out of France and into the North Sea.

Both of these movies are about striving, pushing, yelling, arguing, anguishing . . . and never giving in . . . to attempts from fascist types who are eager to outright or underhandedly control the rest of us. Good messages in these two movies for us today.

And then I spent Sunday evening watching a documentary of Ben Bradley as editor of the Washington Post Newspaper during his friendship with President Kennedy, during his printing of the Pentagon Papers in 1971 and then investigating the Watergate break-in of 1972.

Three real-life contingencies – (1) cave in to Hitler and sign a peace treaty or hold firm and defend Britain to the death; (2) demand acknowledgement that the First Amendment defends the governed, not the governors; (3) stand up to lying by the people who govern us – are examples of the many ways a democracy can be assaulted. Just because we managed to form a democracy almost 250 years ago does not mean it can’t disappear from sight because of pressures such as the above.

Those who stand up to or expose corruption and power grabs are often maligned. But their courage saves us. Churchill didn’t care what they called him or said about him as long as he was able to save his country from becoming one more subjugated satellite of the Nazis.

Katharine Graham, owner of the Washington Post, and Ben Bradley, her editor in chief, decided that publishing the truth was more important than retaliation or the fear of prison, and it happened to them twice; first, with the Pentagon Papers that told the truth about our war in Vietnam; and second, telling the tale of Nixon and his minions stealing information from Democratic headquarters in the D.C. office towers of Watergate.

Sound familiar? If it sounds familiar because you are old enough to have lived through any of the above, that’s one thing. If it sounds familiar because it’s what’s going on now and you recognize it, I bow to you.
The way America works is built on our inheritance of British law based on the Magna Carta. The 800-year-old Magna Carta is a document from the year 1215 that influenced the personal liberties built in to our own constitution.

It is as “the greatest constitutional document of all times – the foundation of the freedom of the individual against the arbitrary authority of the despot,”* that we can be free individuals. It is from this ancient piece of parchment that we and the rest of the democracies scattered across the globe gleaned our personal liberties.

For some reason – power, greed, stupidity? – some people are always trying to take those liberties away from us.
*[according to a Lord Denning in 1965]

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