This Is How Liberal Democracy Dies: Will We Let It? by Carol P. Christ

“This is apparently how liberal democracy dies. It vanishes very quickly with an Executive Order.”– Ska Keller

In a powerful yet softly-spoken speech to the European Parliament, Green Party Germany Representative Ska Keller explained that rights and liberties we we take “for granted” and consider “natural,” “normal,” and “guaranteed” can be taken from us in an instant.  The America we took for granted, an America built on respect for immigrants and religious freedom, has vanished before our eyes. With the stroke of a pen, the President of the United States revoked it.


Carol telling the Green Party Greece the US President is a malignant narcissist.

Like many others, I am in a state of shock. Has the dream of liberal democracy died in America? Will we be able to repair and reinstate it? Ska Keller reminds us that freedom can never be taken for granted, but must be fought for and defended every day. Thousands of Americans have taken to the streets and are flooding the phone lines of congress trying to do just that. Will we succeed? At this point the outcome is unknown. In recent days, I often feel frozen in place, waiting for the next piece of horrible news, taking heart from stories of resistance, and hoping against hope that the tide will turn.

Much of the rhetoric decrying the President’s anti-Muslim order appears to assume that our democracy was functioning “just fine” or “pretty well” before Trump took over. In fact, our democracy was not “just fine” before Trump took over. It remains an open question whether the concerted Republican effort to restrict the voting rights of African Americans is responsible for the Republican victory and victories. It remains an open question how much the intervention of Russia in the election contributed to Trump’s election and whether Trump or his cronies colluded with a foreign power to steal the election and got away with it.

And let us not forget that, though America was founded upon ideals of freedom and justice for all, slavery was not abolished by the Founding Fathers; they did not view Native Americans as human beings with rights equal to their own; and they did not consider their wives and daughters to be worthy of full citizenship.

Moreover, Trump’s order was not the first immigration restriction. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 prohibited the immigration of Chinese laborers and their families. The Immigration Act of 1924 was crafted to stem the tide of Eastern and Southern Europeans (mainly Catholic, Jewish, and Christian Orthodox), restricted the immigration of Africans, and banned Arabs and Asians. The policies established by the 1924 act remained in place until 1965 (which is why many Jews fleeing the Nazis were denied refuge in the United States).

Knowledge of this history makes it abundantly clear that our democracy has been flawed from its  beginnings. Though the founders affirmed freedom and liberty for all, America has also stood for the landowner supremacy, male supremacy, white supremacy, Anglo-American (English) supremacy, Protestant supremacy, Christian supremacy, and colonial appropriation of land. Moreover, the “land of the free” was established through bloody warfare against Native American peoples, England, France, and Mexico. This too is “our” “American” history, and it may be one of the reasons that “the American ideal” means different things to different people.

The Statue of Liberty’s plaque is inscribed with the poem “New Colossus,” written by Jewish American Emma Lazarus:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
statue-of-liberty-poemHere at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

In this poem, Lazarus contrasts the Colossus of Rhodes, a Conquering Warrior, with the Mother of Exiles, defining America as a place of “world-wide welcome.”

Another American, the lawyer and slave-holding plantation owner Francis Scott Key, viewed America through the lens of war, “the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air.”

O say can you see, by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;
O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

When this song was adopted as America’s National Anthem in 1931, it defined Americans as victors who pledge allegiance to a flag. I don’t know how about you, but I found the singing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” to be chillingly appropriate at Trump’s inauguration. Like the meaning of the Bible, the meaning of the American dream is a matter of interpretation, rooted in standpoints and communities.

These reflections underscore the truth of Ska Keller’s warning that we can never take rights and liberties “for granted.” Our task is not only to defend the rights and liberties we may have taken for granted, but also to continually expand our vision of what it means to affirm “liberty and justice for all.”

Update: A federal court has blocked the executive order: but let us not forget that the Republicans stole a Supreme Court seat.

der-spiegel-trump-beheads-statue-of-liberty-cropThe featured image from the cover of Der Spiegel of the President beheading the Statue of Liberty created by Cuban-American artist Edel Rodriguez bears a striking resemblance to classical Greek images of Perseus holding the severed head of Medusa in celebration of the conquest of the civilization of the Goddess.


a-serpentine-path-amazon-coverGoddess and God in the World final cover designBe among the first to order A Serpentine Path, Carol’s moving memoir. Carol’s new book written with Judith Plaskow is Goddess and God in the World: Conversations in Embodied Theology.

Carol wrote the first Goddess feminist theology, Rebirth of the Goddess and with Judith Plaskow co-edited the path-breaking Womanspirit Rising and Weaving the Visions.

Join Carol on a Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete in 2017. Save $200.


Categories: Activism, American History, Feminism, Feminism and Religion, General

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31 replies

  1. “And let us not forget that, though America was founded upon ideals of freedom and justice for all, slavery was not abolished by the Founding Fathers; they did not view Native Americans as human beings with rights equal to their own; and they did not consider their wives and daughters to be worthy of full citizenship.”

    I agree that as a nation we have never come to terms with our origins or the other injustices you note, along with the interment camps for Japanese Americans in World War II and right up the present, with continuing police targeting of African Americans and the assumption that the US government can go on plundering sovereign Native American nations, Standing Rock being only one prominent example.

    If we are to be a democracy, we must find the collective and individual courage to face ourselves and each other. Thank you, Carol.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. On the election, maybe the US just couldn’t accept a woman President. But why not, we now have the second female Prime Minister of Great Britain, that is, Theresa May — I admire her speeches — she’s not so far right either as one might think. Also Angela Merkel is currently Chancellor of Germany. I also linked my name here to a fabulous video of Theresa May — do take a look, love the music — and in one of the scenes the Prime Minister is wearing a black and white t-shirt that says — “This is what a feminist looks like.” Type that phrase in at Amazon now and you can buy that t-shirt with the slogan in several different colors. Hooray!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Anti-alien laws go further back than the 1920s. There were four or five Alien and Sedition Acts passed in 1798 under the presidency of John Adams. You’re right that we have to keep working on our democracy and keep working harder to preserve the rights so many people fought for. Has everybody read the excellent article by David Frum in The Atlantic?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. The founder of the National Civil Liberties Bureau (the precursor to the ACLU) Roger Baldwin is purported to have said, “No fight for liberty ever stays won.” I now realize how naive I have been to believe that the rights for which we have fought and won could ever be taken away. I grew up with the belief that life was supposed to be fair (my mother never telling me that it wasn’t until I was nearly in high school, much to my dismay). And even after learning that it wasn’t, I still believed it should be and have lived my life working for that. This election and its resulting horror show have left me deeply disillusioned regarding our country, its people, and our future. As the sign says: ‘I can’t believe I’m still protesting this f***g sh*t.’ But I guess continuing to fight the good fight is the only way to stay sane — and the only way I can look myself in the mirror.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I can’t think about what’s happening without shuddering. As a woman with Native roots I never felt equal and even as a child the Star Spangled Banner repulsed me – as did the “sea from shining sea.”

    My current strategy for survival includes severely restricted news coverage and absolutely NO face to face contact via screen with Trump. I cannot even stand his voice.

    I am glad that you made it clear Carol that we have NEVER been a democracy – Ideals fall short of reality. Trump’s victory suggests that our refusal to see the dark side of America is part of the reason that Trump is president…

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Phoning our PM Justin today, nice lad but isn’t following through with his promise of electoral reform which might keep a “trump” from taking over here with “first past the post” system.

    I keep looking behind trump to who is pulling his strings – and what is going on while we are all distracted by the “entertainer”. I know some people who are pulling the blankets over their head and hoping it all goes away. It is you who are thoughtful and faithful and loving who I find hope in.


  7. Great post, Carol. It’s easy for me to imagine how difficult it is to be an American emigré in Europe right now. I lived in Germany in 1968, when both Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King were murdered. My German friends and acquaintances asked me how this could happen, and as a naive, young woman I really couldn’t respond. It would be easier to respond today as you did in your post. But it would be just as painful. I have to believe — even though it doesn’t appear true today — that the arc of history is long, but it bends towards justice (originally a statement by Unitarian minister Theodore Parker, quoted by Martin Luther King). And I will continue making telephone calls, writing letters to the editor, boycotting Trump goods, and joining demonstrations until it bends back around in the right (i.e. left) direction.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. This is a thoughtful well reasoned peace. This article seems a bit too intelligent for mainstream consumers to accept and likely to appeal to those who already agree with this point of view. It seems people make a decision from their vantage point first and make the arguments from there.


    • I hope you are not right familytree, but I fear that you may be. Even those who proclaim that America or the gospels are on the side of the poor, etc. often fail to recognize that there are other possible interpretations of traditions that can be understood in more than one way because they contain diverse and even contradictory elements.


  9. I think it’s the death of civilized behavior that we should be mourning.


  10. There is only a very thin veil of civilization and civility covering the body of humanity. It really doesn’t take much to destabilize a democracy. The southern states in America have yet to reconcile the lost of the Civil War and resent equality across the spectrum, as being out of step with biblical ideology. However, that is just an excuse for the loss of power, money, and authority.


    • Yes I do think this is about the Civil War in part, and not only about white supremacy, but also about male dominance (every man king in his own castle), and sadly interpretations of Christianity that fit with the values of the Old South.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, in my opinion, it also seems illogical that Christian theologians validate, often, interpretations from the 997 pages of Jewish history in the Revised Standard Version of the Bible to have dominance over the 293 pages of the New Testament that are the basis for Christianity. Ancient Judea cultural aspects and religious theology are used to justify male dominance in Christian theology (woman must obey their husbands). This to me supports the view that Christians are, in reality, living a modified version of Judaism and not Christianity. I wish I could say otherwise, however, as we know Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all come from the same tree. Please note, my opinion is not reflective of anything related to or may be interpretative of anyone else’s belief in regards to Feminism and Religion.


      • The New Testament also validates male dominance, as did later Christian theologians. Did not require the OT. I try not to “blame Jews” for wider cultural patterns.

        Liked by 2 people

      • Hi Carol, I certainly did not mean to criticize the Jewish religion at all, my grandmother is Jewish. I was simply pointing out male dominance in all three religions. If I came across that way, I didn’t mean to and I certainly apologize! Karen

        Liked by 1 person

  11. Focused on the phrase, ‘knowledge of [this] history’ leaps off the page. If one takes the mask off and examines the facts versus the rhetoric … well. We’d be having a different national conversation. We have miles and miles to go in this adolescent nation before we can claim greatness. We’re setting a horrible, reprehensible example with this new regime. And it’s funny too, because almost every time I write ‘democracy’ these days, it flies off my fingers as ‘demoncracy.’ Hmmm ….

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Reblogged this on Journal Edge and commented:
    Article source:


  13. It is amazing that only good thing trump has done is “enable” all of us with “like” minds to come together everywhere in the world. I will resist with everything within my power by supporting ACLU, SPLC and participating in every resistance effort I can find. He has made us aware, “freedom must be fought for everyday”


  14. As a concerned American I would just like to say that we are, in my opinion, not nearly concerned enough in this country.


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