We need a new association of people who are willing to work together to protect the American democracy from assaults by the Trump Administration (other nations may need similar committees). The association’s agenda will be sharply limited and focused on protecting the right to vote; freedom of the press and the need to keep the public informed; the courts’ independence; and stopping the abuse of public office for private gains.
The success of the association, let’s call it the American Committee for the Defense of Democracy (ACDD), requires that those who join it will agree to leave all other agenda items—however virtuous or vital they may be—to other associations and organizations. Hence the ACDD will be able to encompass both environmentalists and those more concerned with jobs; both pro-choice and pro-life advocates; both those who are keen to reduce inequality and those focused on increasing economic growth. All ethnic identity politics will be left for other associations.
There are several reasons this format will serve well. Currently, there are various groups and associations that seek to resist the Trump catastrophe but each has its own agenda, often one that conflicts with that of some other such groups. For example, pro-life feminists were not allowed to participate in the Women’s March on Washington, and the Sanderists continue to vie with the Hillarites. There is no way to get all these groups to settle their differences and come up with one encompassing agenda that will truly speak to them all. The suggested format obviates this need. It allows each group to continue to promote its particular agenda while working with other groups in the defense of democracy.
The second reason in favor of a new, overarching, all-inclusive association is that the erosion of democracy is of concern to all of us and undermines all our particularistic agendas. That is, protecting democracy is both a good in itself and one that serves whatever special concerns we have. Thus, the ACDD will not be limited to Democrats, but will welcome Independents and Republicans. Last but not least, even some of the Trump supporters can be reached if we focus on the defense of democracy, but they cannot be reached if we try to enlist them in support of social justice, immigration, or many of the other good causes we champion.
There is likely to be strong pressure to expand the list of items whose advancement is considered essential to the defense of democracy, such as educational reform or reducing inequality. This tendency must be resisted if the ACDD is to succeed. The shorter the agenda, the more the ACDD will be able to encompass as wide a range of voters as possible. To reiterate, those concerned with other matters should recall that the ACDD in no way prevents them from acting on behalf of causes dear to them, but merely under a different umbrella.
The ACDD should be a card-carrying, dues-paying association, with all the other elements of such an association. However, its main purpose is to serve as the organizational instrument of a social movement.
The ACDD will issue an annual score for Honoring Democracy to all in office or those who previously served if they seek office again. New candidates will be evaluated on the basis of how they conducted themselves in whatever capacity they served the public before running for office. The score will be based on prior actions and will completely ignore speeches, promises, and declarations. The Committee will support, in contested elections, those with the highest Honoring Democracy score. It will form a Wall of Shame on which it will list and number the utter falsehoods President Trump has made including: his claims about millions of fraudulent voters; that the media did not report numerous terrorist attacks; and that the crime rate is at a historic high. This will allow the media to point out, once the list hits, say 25, (which will be soon enough) that the President is not merely lying (which people say we all do now and then) but is a habitual liar. It will serve to remind us that Trump uses the Oval Office to systematically misinform the public and undermine its trust in the media.
The ACDD should be a card-carrying, dues-paying association, with all the other elements of such an association. However, its main purpose is to serve as the organizational instrument of a social movement. If one examines how major political and social changes were achieved in the past, one finds that very often they were advanced by social movements. These include the progressive, civil rights, environmental, and women’s rights movements. Social movements involve large numbers of activists, crowds, marches, demonstrations, and other forms of dramatization of the causes at issue. When successful, they generate a great amount of enthusiasm and commitment from millions of people. However, they all also have an organizational core. For the women’s movement, it was NOW and NARAL; for civil rights, it was the NAACP, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and the Urban League; for gay rights, it was Human Rights Campaign and PFLAG among others.
We now need to launch an American Committee for the Defense of Democracy as the organizational core for a social movement to face off a massive and powerful multi-faceted assault on our democratic system. Trump is our best recruitment agent. People mainly need to know where they can sign up with other like-minded people who are willing to leave their other causes for different associations, to work together to preserve a system in which people can continue to be informed, vote, and defeat those who undermine democracy.
Amitai Etzioni is a University Professor at The George Washington University. His position paper “The China Options” was just published by The George Washington University.