The challenge for citizens to be guardians of democracy

“KNOWLEDGE has, in our time, triumphed, and is triumphing, over distance, over difference of language, over diversity of habits, over prejudice, and over bigotry. The civilized and Christian world is fast learning the great lesson, that difference of nation does not imply necessary hostility, and that all contact need not be war. Let our age be the age of improvement. In a day of peace, let us advance the arts of peace and the works of peace. Let us develop the resources of our land, call forth its powers, build up its institutions, promote all its great interests, and see whether we also, in our day and generation, may not perform something worthy to be remembered.” – Daniel Webster, 1825.

I wrote a piece about News of the World Corporation’s hacking of key political figures and celebrities in England on July 30, 2011. It traced how it started with an audacious bid of News of the World, from Rupert Murdoch in 1981.

Emily Bell of The Guardian reported how he smashed the unions. He then launched Sky-TV in 1989. It had grown in size and unparalleled power that political candidates sought the newspaper’s support. The paper became kingmakers and queenmakers in politics. But its operational practices were less than pristine.

In January 2007, News of the World Reporter’s Clive Goodman was jailed for hacking mobile phones of three royal staff, an offense under the Regulatory of Investigatory Powers Act, Guardian reported.

Headlines read: “Rebekah Brooks arrested by British police for hacking allegations on July 17, 2011.” She resigned on July 15, 2011 from News World Corporation and agreed to give evidence. Operation Elveden (bribing of police officers) was acknowledged in progress.

Another private investigator, Glenn Mulcaire, was jailed when he admitted to hacking phones of five other targets. In 2009, a million pounds was paid to gag the victims. From Mulcaire’s arrest, 31 journalists were implicated. The rest was history and Rupert Murdoch had to issue public apologies for hacking and his bid to fully Sky Cable was abandoned.

Fast forward to 2017, and The Guardian’s Jasper Jackson reported, “Senior executives from Rupert Murdoch-owned companies met the prime minister or chancellor 10 times in a year – more than any other media organization, according to a new analysis. There were 10 meetings with either David Cameron or George Osborne, and later Theresa May or the chancellor, Phillip Hammond, compared with seven with named executives for the BBC and four with Evgeny Lebedev, the owner of the Evening Standard and Independent, over the 12 months to September 2016.”

It is reported that Rupert Murdoch has reached an agreement “to take full control of the satellite broadcaster, Sky, five years after he was forced to abandon a similar deal amid public revulsion over the phone-hacking scandal.”

Notice that public revulsion caused a halt in hacking practices, which involved several journalists, but also bribing police officers. Scandals were facilitated by tapping the phones of celebrities and royal staff and it took the public, as guardians of democracy, to say, enough!

But what about in the United States? Who will act as guardians of our American democracy?

Five million in post-45th presidential inauguration rallies

A day after the inauguration on January 20, The Nation reported that 5,000,000 worldwide and over 1,000,000 in Washington, DC rallied. They came to declare that they are the guardians of democracy, equality, inclusion and “women’s rights are human rights.” Why?

The Russian hackers reported to have intervened during the elections remain a statement of fact, but without anyone and their cohorts brought to justice. Also, a president was installed, while not elected by a majority of popular votes, but simply the Electoral College votes, a hold-over from the colonial period of slavery-owned states.

Of late, the hashtag #weaccept gained support after Pres. Trump signed an executive order on January 27, 2017, banning immigrants and refugees entering from the Muslim-dominated countries of Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Yemen and Somalia.

The executive order was entitled, “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States.” When Judge James L. Robart asked how many arrests have there been of foreign nationals from these seven countries, the president’s attorney, Michelle Bennett responded, “I don’t have that information.”

NPR reported: “He questioned Department of Justice lawyer Michelle Bennett, who was representing the Trump administration, asking, ‘How many arrests have there been of foreign nationals from those seven countries since 9/11?’ The Sept. 11 attack was one of the rationales behind the executive order, according to the Trump administration. ‘I don’t know the specific details of attacks or planned attacks,’ said Bennett, who is from the DOJ’s Civil Division.”

“The answer to that is none, as best I can tell,” said the judge. The judge ruled that “blocking the ban was in the public’s interest.” NPR continued, “Congress gives the president wide latitude in foreign affairs, which includes granting visas. ‘The court doesn’t get to look behind those determinations,’ she added. But the judge answered: ‘I’m also asked to look and determine if the executive order is rationally based. And rationally based, to some extent, means I have to find it grounded in fact instead of fiction.’”

How else can we become guardians of democracy?

Resistance came in many forms. Several states filed suits against the President’s orders: Washington, Massachusetts, New York, Minnesota and Virginia. ACLU filed the first lawsuit blocking the president’s executive order. Rallies were mobilized in major cities and airports.

Lolit Lledo, a Filipino-American leader and Pilipino Workers’ Center’s Associate Director, explained that most of the undocumented are mothers who want to provide for their families. Most of the time they sacrifice so much in lifting patients, giving care to them, while they struggle through their loneliness, getting paid $1,000 a month, with $800 sent to support families in the Philippines, leaving them with a paltry sum of $200 for living expenses. “They are not criminals,” she emphasized. Nor are they terrorists!

When folks in the high echelon of government lie and under the so-called “free speech rights,” we, the citizens, through our silence and lack of resistance, give a green light for evil to corrupt us all, until we have a culture of apathy, allowing more wrongs to grow.

Notice how sexual abuse of young ones was enabled by a culture of not seeing these behaviors as “criminal conduct” in the Catholic Church, until it blew up in its face with news stories and lawsuits. The Catholic Church was financially drained resolving these lawsuits.

Not too long ago, “Spotlight,” an Oscar-winning film was made based on this harrowing problem, which was fully investigated by the Boston Globe. That culture of abuse continue to haunt us and slowly, it is being replaced by appropriate behaviors of priests, bishops and a very inspiring example of a morally aligned and spiritually wise Pope Francis.

In the United Kingdom, the police were bribed to look the other way, to not enforce the laws, while hacking was in progress and gag monies provided to those who complained. This dark culture of wrongdoings took years to be stopped and perpetrators brought to justice.

Free speech has boundaries; that is, speech must not do any harm. We cannot allow a president to make policies and executive orders based on zero evidence. With no evidence that terrorists came from these 7 countries that he identified, his executive order is highly prejudicial, capricious and unsound. As such, the judge reasonably blocked this order.

In turn, we, the citizens of this republic, must take a stand that we believe in our norms. As Benjamin Wittes, a Brookings Institution expert on legal affairs, told The Atlantic’s Jonathan Rauch, “The first thing you’re going to blow through is not the laws, it’s the norms.” By “norms,” he means such political and social customs as respecting the law, accepting the legitimacy of your political opponents, tolerating speech you disagree with, performing civic duties like voting and staying informed, treating public office with dignity, and not lying. Fervently and frequently, the Founders warned that the Constitution would stand or fall on the public’s commitment to high standards of behavior—what they called republican virtue. James Madison said “parchment barriers” could not withstand the corruption of democratic norms.”

I am reminded by Pres. Barack Obama’s farewell speech, his prescient reminders, “A great gift that our Founders gave to us:  The freedom to chase our individual dreams through our sweat and toil and imagination, and the imperative to strive together, as well, to achieve a common good, a greater good. For 240 years, our nation’s call to citizenship has given work and purpose to each new generation.  It’s what led patriots to choose republic over tyranny, pioneers to trek west, slaves to brave that makeshift railroad to freedom.  It’s what pulled immigrants and refugees across oceans and the Rio Grande.  It’s what pushed women to reach for the ballot.  It’s what powered workers to organize.  It’s why GIs gave their lives at Omaha Beach and Iwo Jima, Iraq and Afghanistan.  And why men and women from Selma to Stonewall were prepared to give theirs, as well.  So that’s what we mean when we say America is exceptional—not that our nation has been flawless from the start, but that we have shown the capacity to change and make life better for those who follow.  Yes, our progress has been uneven. The work of democracy has always been hard. It’s always been contentious.  Sometimes it’s been bloody. For every two steps forward, it often feels we take one step back.  But the long sweep of America has been defined by forward motion, a constant widening of our founding creed to embrace all and not just some.”

It is simply un-American to proceed with a ban of  seven countries, with mostly Muslim citizens, when there is no data since 9/11 to support that terrorists come from these countries.

As Judge Robart said, “I’m also asked to look and determine if the executive order is rationally based. And rationally based, to some extent, means I have to find it grounded in fact instead of fiction.”

Executive orders cannot be based on suspicion, conjecture, assumptions, or fiction.

America’s Executive Order 9066 signed by Pres. Theodore Roosevelt in 1942, which incarcerated 150,000 American citizens of Japanese descent, was implemented based on a lie that was enshrined in a military memo.

We must not repeat that historical injustice and must be worthy guardians of democracy, what Daniel Webster had exhorted us to do in 1825.

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Prosy Abarquez-Delacruz, J.D. writes a weekly column for Asian Journal, called “Rhizomes.” She has been writing for AJ Press for 9 years now. She contributes to Balikbayan Magazine. Her training and experiences are in science, food technology, law and community volunteerism for 4 decades. She holds a B.S. degree from the University of the Philippines, a law degree from Whittier College School of Law in California and a certificate on 21st Century Leadership from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. She has been a participant in NVM Writing Workshops taught by Prof. Peter Bacho for 4 years and Prof. Russell Leong. She has travelled to France, Holland, Belgium, Japan, Mexico and 22 national parks in the US, in pursuit of her love for arts.

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