In 49 BCE, a single Roman soldier put one armor-clad foot into a shallow stream in northern Italy. This single step by a single soldier led to the fall of Roman democracy.
If you know your history, you know that I am referring to the crossing of the Rubicon by Julius Caesar and his army – an act that was a direct violation of Rome’s rules, and an act that Caesar knew would lead to conflict and possibly war.
What you may NOT know is that the actual fall of Roman democracy, and the establishment of the Caesarian dictatorships, did not happen until three years later, in 46 BCE.
Why am I bringing this up tonight? And why am I making the point about the three-year gap between the first action and the final collapse?
Because – we could lose our democracy tomorrow, but not realize the final denoument until 2021. That is how critical this election is.
For two years or longer, people have been warning that Trump’s tendencies would be toward authoritarianism. Those same people wondered out loud if our institutions would be strong enough to resist this slide into Trumpism. And those same people were laughed at, or called “alarmist,” or dismissed as conspiracy theorists.
Now, two years later, those with “eyes to see and ears to hear” have realized that the persons who warned us were not crazy, or overwrought – they were prescient. They saw what was coming. And now, we can all see it, if we bear to look.
I wrote a piece a while back about a worst-case scenario if we didn’t take back the House. You can read it for yourself, but let me say that at this point, I think it is possibly too optimistic.
We see where Trump goes when cornered: more racism, more attacks on the press, more encouragement of violence. We see that keeping children in cages, using public office for private gain, and denigrating women and minorities meets with approval by a segment of the country. And we see that attacking our allies while praising dictators and thugs is accepted as normal behavior for this president.
People who have studied other authoritarian regimes point out that Trump is following the playbook, and the Republicans are either allowing it or encouraging it. These people tell us that if this continues, we will become like Russia, or Turkey, or other authoritarian states: having a form of democracy, but without a true rule of law, and without guarantee of basic rights and freedoms. We will no longer be the American democracy; we will be just another big country, one that has replaced democracy with Trumpism.
So, I ask the question again: Will we lose our democracy tomorrow? The executive branch is compromised; the judicial branch is compromised. If we do not take back the House, the legislative branch will be compromised as well for at least two more years, and possibly longer. And that will be game – set – match.
I am hopeful that we can flip the House, and begin to pull this nation back from the abyss. But like a spouse waiting on the results of a loved one’s surgery, I am also aware of the possibility of things going horribly wrong, and the possibility of death.
Let us hope that we turn back from this Rubicon. Let us hope that people all across this land say “enough.” Let us hope that we can wake up on Wednesday with a change in the dynamic in Washington.
Otherwise, we may wake up Wednesday to the distant sound of thousands of feet, marching on Rome, signaling the end of our democracy.