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Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

What to Do When Your Democracy Is on Fire: Vote!

This is the most important Election Day since the Civil War.

This is no time for being coy. This is the most significant election of our lifetime. (Photo: Steve Eason/Flickr/cc)

This is no time for being coy. This is the most significant election of our lifetime. (Photo: Steve Eason/Flickr/cc)

Everyone’s on edge; now is not the time for irony or speaking in parables. I get that. There are too many sleep-deprived folks walking around today with dry mouths and heart palpitations to engage in the usual Election Day bromides about civics. No one’s in the mood for gestures of fake neutrality. Our democracy is on fire!

People are freaked out. Bland sermons about the act of voting somehow being more important than the outcome itself amounts to journalistic malpractice and an abdication of citizenship when the stakes are this high. To paraphrase one of Mr. T’s catchphrases: “Time to cut the jibber-jabber.”

I know a modern version of stoicism designed for the anxiety-producing drama of the Trump era is growing in popularity, but as admirable as that ancient Greek philosophy is in many ways, it would be insane to treat the monumental choice facing our democracy today as if it were just another choice in a day full of choices.

This is for all of the marbles, folks. The anxiety that you feel is well earned. It’s akin to the fear and trembling that those fleeing slavery felt as they navigated the Underground Railroad to freedom. This is not a day for playing around. This is a day for following the political equivalent of the North Star to freedom.

Anyone think I’m engaging in too much hyperbole? Those who watched footage of the Biden campaign bus hurtling down a Texas highway surrounded by a pro-Trump caravan of MAGA pickup trucks over the weekend knows a profoundly anti-democratic spirit has been unleashed in the land.

Of course, Mr. Trump tweeted moral support for a blatant act of voter and candidate intimidation: “In my opinion, these patriots did nothing wrong,” the president, who has no discernible moral compass, tweeted on Sunday despite news that the San Antonio FBI office was investigating the incident. “Instead, the FBI & Justice should be investigating the terrorists, anarchists, and agitators of ANTIFA who run around burning down our Democrat run cities and hurting our people!”

In New Jersey, several hundred cars also flying Trump flags down the Garden State Parkway like a rogue ISIS cell purposely held up traffic and caused delays on Sunday morning.

Today, an engaged plurality of the American people who haven’t voted yet will determine our nation’s future like no electorate has since the eve of the Civil War.

The same thing happened on the Mario Cuomo Bridge spanning the Hudson River in New York thanks to 300 cars driven by Trump supporters that blocked and slowed down traffic that afternoon.

Will there be a serious federal investigation of these acts? As long as Attorney General Bill Barr is calling the shots, it’s doubtful. Mr. Trump has already pronounced these acts of intimidation on the eve of an election “patriotism,” so the agency he controls like a ruthless Mafia don will back off.

It’s become a cliche to describe the threat to our Democratic Republic as existential, but it truly is. The Trump presidency is severing the fabric of what few bonds of affection between citizens of different political philosophies we have left in this country. I’ve witnessed decades-old friendships fall apart because of this man.

There’s no escaping this ugly truth. Our democracy is on fire!

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For the first time in my three decades as a journalist, I have a sign on my front lawn advertising my presidential preference.

In previous years, I asked my wife to resist the urge to put up a lawn sign even when Barack Obama began his historic run and we already had a framed picture of me and the future president sitting on our mantel.

When 2016 rolled around, I was somehow able to talk my wife out of putting up a lawn sign for Hillary Clinton. I’m sure I spouted some high-minded gibberish about “looking neutral for the neighbors” despite writing a very opinionated column twice a week.

I might have even thrown in some twaddle about “not technically being allowed to put up lawn signs” because I was a member of the PG’s editorial board at the time and that it would likely violate some long-cherished norm in journalism. It was all part of a weird kabuki dance of hypocrisy that a lot of journalists engage in, especially when it comes to voting and presidential elections.

Two months ago, our perennial discussion about whether or not to put up partisan lawn signs in the lead up to Election Day was a lot briefer. The only question we debated was which Joe Biden/​Kamala Harris sign would best bear the weight of our combined patriotism until Nov. 3.

There’s no time for tut-tutting or debating the propriety of truthfully expressing one’s opinion when the stakes are this high. Our democracy is on fire!

This is no time for being coy. This is the most significant election of our lifetime. Today, an engaged plurality of the American people who haven’t voted yet will determine our nation’s future like no electorate has since the eve of the Civil War.

And speaking of the Civil War, as much as it pains President Donald Trump to be constantly reminded that he’s no “Honest Abe,” he knows he would at least make a passable Jefferson Davis if his sudden veneration for Confederate monuments weren’t so nakedly opportunistic.

The only upside — if you can call it that — is that it has finally filtered down to even the least-attentive citizens that elections have consequences and the lack of participation in elections can have dire consequences, too.

The projected turnout today is expected to exceed any election in American history. That’s the upside of being terrorized, I suppose. But it can’t stop there. In order to repair the damage to our country by this president and his traitorous sycophants, we’ll probably have to maintain this level of voting engagement for the next five or six election cycles to beat back one demagogue after the other who will attempt to inherit Mr. Trump’s mantle and fire up his base. Four years of Donald Trump was enough to demonstrate how fragile our democracy is when an entire political party is captured by an authoritarian.

Our democracy is on fire! Time to grab a hose and VOTE! This is no time for dispensing wet wipes.

Tony Norman

Tony Norman

Tony Norman is a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist. He was once the Post-Gazette’s pop music/pop culture critic and appeared as an expert on cultural issues on local radio talk shows and television programs. In 1996, he began writing an award-winning general interest column, which, he says, rejuvenated his enthusiasm for the kind of journalism that makes a difference.

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