Democracy is all the better with the election of a new president south of the border
On Saturday, November 7, 2020, at around noon Eastern Standard Time, if you looked outside there were imaginary balloons flying in the universal skies, and there was music somehow, again, in every symphony hall, in homes, in cars and in voices. To borrow a phrase, “an audacity of hope” had been unleashed. Joe Biden had been declared the president-elect of the United States of America.
In a time of COVID-19 despair, political, cultural and racial divisions throughout the world, a sensation of joy was palpable. Fever-pitched anxiety gave way to a door opening onto decency and respect.
Donald Trump misused the high office he was always just a visitor in. His lack of respect for the essential division of powers was another virus that was infecting his country. His lack of vision, decency and respect had undermined the institution of democracy, which has at its core a respect for the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary, and a firm and resolute support for the separation of powers. Creeping totalitarianism and poisonous nationalism were eating away at a once great and respected nation and moving it closer to despotic regimes around the world.
Lawyers, and indeed judges, have a duty to advocate and preserve justice, decency and respect for the law. Their roles should never be compromised for immediate political gratification. But Donald Trump treated the justice department as his personal law firm. Some counsel there seemed to be patsies and failed to realize that their client was not the president. A few principled prosecutors resigned, and some were fired for not towing the Trump line; but an erosion of independence was in plain sight.
Judges were criticized and called out in disgraceful displays; sadly, it seemed that their resistance was often muted.
And many American senators are lawyers, who ignored the grave finding of impeachment and carried on. They then moved with indecent haste to acclaim the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court of the United States, weeks before an election, and after they had refused to even consider President Barack Obama’s nominee a year before the end of his term.
It is interesting that the stacking of the courts has been hailed as an achievement of the Trump presidency. Perhaps Justice Barrett will be a principled non-partisan jurist and surprise expectations. But the process was tainted. How wonderful it would have been if she had recused herself from the nomination process, perhaps to be reconsidered by a new administration. But in the end the court was contaminated by a flawed process, fueled by a president who had little respect for it.
It may be a sign of hope that many lawyers refused to support Trump’s frivolous motions to prove the U.S. election process fraudulent and overturn the results. And it is demonstratively reassuring that certain judges have bluntly and forcefully rejected his baseless allegations.
A dear and very wise friend of mine, a member of our profession, suggested that there has seemed to be a “disintegration of morality in the world.” Yet while Donald Trump was a poster boy for this, he was also merely a symbol of the decay. Over seventy million Americans voted for him, ignoring his mean and disgraceful character but embracing his policies.
We worship social media, which is basically unchecked, because it seems to serve our purposes. We ignore the destruction of reputations, often by anonymous purveyors of hate, racism, misogyny and violence. The creeping erosion of privacy, the hacking and theft of personal information, the invasion by artificial intelligence, fake personas and voices, and an undermining of reliable journalism seem to have no ready vaccine.
Although we are living with a deadly virus, many reject wearing masks, ignore social distancing and risk contaminating others. On another level, someone close to me spotted an advertisement on the side of a bus that read: “Unhappy in your marriage? Call Ashley Madison.” Aside from the fact that the Ashley Maddison website (which provides an online service for married people wanting affairs) was hacked in 2015 and its customer data stolen, the immorality of this advertising is obvious.
There is too much violence in our world, often prompted by mental illness, or simply by hate. We are destroying our environment. We are allowing ourselves to be puppets of technology.
What’s more, we are living in extraordinary times, and our world may never be the same. We are awaiting a vaccine in order to start again.
COVID-19 is teaching us that we are not in complete control of our lives. And yet, don’t you sense that there is a positive awakening, a new chance for a healthier world, a reintegration of kindness, an appreciation of what we have and not just what we want — and, perhaps, a symphony of hope?
I do; and I believe it started on that Saturday, November 7, 2020, around noon.