The MAGA crowd, like its leaders, love the pomp and pageantry of our military. (Who could ever forget the cringeworthy Fourth of July celebration in 2019 when the disgraced former president recalled that, in 1775, “Our army manned the air, it rammed the ramparts, it took over the airports, it did everything it had to do, and at Fort McHenry, under the rockets’ red glare, it had nothing but victory”?) But as Republicans stymie the Jan. 6 commission, grouse about addressing our complicated past on race and seek to disenfranchise millions of Americans, one wonders whether they understand Memorial Day, Veterans Day and other tributes to the military. These events are not actually about military glory.

President Biden, in a refreshing shift from militaristic idolatry, spoke on Monday about the cause for which so many died: “Our troops have fought this battle on fields around the world, but also the battle of our time. And the mission falls to each of us, each and every day. Democracy itself is in peril, here at home and around the world,” he said. “What we do now, how we honor the memory of the fallen, will determine whether or not democracy will long endure. We all take it for granted. . . . Every generation has to fight for it.”

Given recent events, he is right to remind Americans that a “struggle for democracy is taking place around the world — democracy and autocracy. The struggle for decency and dignity — just simple decency. The struggle for posterity — prosperity and progress. And, yes, the struggle for the soul of America itself.” Many assumed that the struggle for the soul of America was won when the country elected Biden over an unhinged, racist authoritarian. That was premature, at best.

The Republican Party’s determination to hold power for the sake of power, its flight from facts and its grotesque reversion to Jim Crow-style politics show that the threat to democracy is growing. Biden’s words were a pointed indictment of the MAGA crowd, which wraps itself in the flag while denying rights at the core of our democracy:

Democracy thrives when the infrastructure of democracy is strong; when people have the right to vote freely and fairly and conveniently; when a free and independent press pursues the truth, founded on facts, not propaganda; when the rule of law applies equally and fairly to every citizen, regardless of where they come from or what they look like. . . .
If every person is sacred, then every person’s rights are sacred. Individual dignity; individual worth; individual sanctity; the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We say those words so often, but think of it: the right to vote, the right to rise in a world as far as your talent can take you, unlimited by unfair barriers of privilege and power — such are the principles of democracy.

MAGA Republicans fundamentally misunderstand America, too often attempting to define it as a defender of White Christianity instead of the core idea of “liberty and opportunity for all,” as Biden put it. We face up to hard truths about our past not to tear down the United States or to guilt-trip White people, but because the perfection of democracy requires that we understand and address conditions inconsistent with our founding ideals.

In stirring words, Biden explained, “We must honor their sacrifice by sustaining the best of America, while honestly confronting all that we must do to make our nation fuller, freer and more just. We must remember that we may find the light and the wisdom and, yes, the courage to move forward. . . . For in remembrance lies not just our history, but our hope.”

Republicans, in their assault on democracy and fetish with white grievance (which intrinsically denies and rejects the true victims of inequality, violence and discrimination), have come to believe that their hold on power is necessary to sustain “our way of life.” In fact, our way of life depends on the rule of law, the sanctity of elections and, as Biden observed, empathy which treats all American with dignity and respect — not merely those who favor one party or revere a cult leader. “Empathy is the fuel of democracy, a willingness to see each other — not as enemies, [but] neighbors,” he said.

It is telling that Biden’s predecessor lacked any whiff of empathy, a precondition for defending the rights of others and respecting their verdict even when it goes against one’s interest. Over the past five months, we have seen the degree to which one party — tens of millions of Americans — believes that they are the true defenders of America and Western civilization. Balderdash. The threat to democracy remains so long as a substantial subset of Americans rejects (or is totally ignorant of) the fundamental precepts on which the country was founded and lacks the moral compass to understand its own role in tearing down the architecture of democracy. The threat remains acute.

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