“Teach-in? What’s a teach-in?” That is a common response from my university students. That bewilderment is not limited to Millennials. Most Americans under age 60 know nothing about this unique form of social activism.
However, many Baby Boomers will recall the Vietnam War teach-ins. In the ’60s and ’70s, many of us opposed the war on moral grounds. However, we soon realized that we knew little about Vietnam and Southeast Asia, the history of American foreign policy, the intricacies of how the federal government worked, and the wide range of political activities available to us. We eagerly attended teach-ins to learn from our elders (even though we claimed not to trust anybody over age 30!) about all aspects of the war and citizenship. I attended some sessions with 200-300 participants.
In the digital age, you no longer need to hire a hall and hope for an embodied audience. The internet is now a viable venue for teach-ins. Since Trump’s inauguration, I have turned my Facebook page and The Society Pages’ (TSP) blog into a “Trump Teach-In.” I began posting several articles in the morning and another batch in the evening. During those 100+ days, I sometimes grew weary of all things Trump. I often went to bed swearing that I would no longer aggregate and post news articles about President Trump’s threat to the U.S. Constitution. I had a life to live.
Then I would rise in the morning and begin perusing my list of reliable sources—The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal, National Public Radio (NPR), The Guardian, Politico, Talking Points Memo, etc. (we still have a relatively free and vigilant press). Soon I was again posting like a man possessed. Like it or not, this is my life in Twenty Seventeen. George Orwell needs updating.
I lived and resisted throughout Richard Nixon’s presidency and Watergate. It took him over four years to precipitate a constitutional crisis. U.S. Courts, Congress, and citizen activists eventually prevailed. In 112 days, President Trump has created an even more dangerous constitutional crisis. The outcome is uncertain.
Trying to stop the travel ban, disrupt the undocumented-immigrant roundup, solve Trump’s Russian Rubik’s Cube, protect civil liberties, avert nuclear war, and save American social and environmental programs is just the beginning. Not to be unduly alarmist, but look at what happened to Germany’s Weimar Constitution, a parliamentary democracy, during a single year, 1933. Democracy’s demise occurred despite spirited resistance from Germany’s citizens and its courts.
Governing primarily by unilateral executive orders and impulsive tweets, Trump is attempting to close our borders with travel bans, setting in motion a “military operation” to round up undocumented immigrants, authorizing a 1,000-mile wall along the Mexican-American border, and replacing diplomacy with cruise missiles and MOAB bombs. In addition, he labels the press as “the enemy of the people,” and monitors and fires federal civil servants who are out-of-step with him. This style of governing is trickling down—16 state legislatures are seeking to criminalize protest.
Now he has precipitated a potential constitutional crisis by firing the FBI Director James Comey, the man leading an investigation into “All the President’s Men’s” possible collusion with Russia.
We cannot count on the U.S. Courts or Congress to halt our accelerating avalanche toward Caesarism. The last bulwark of a constitutional democracy is an informed citizenry who are willing, in the words of political theorist Hannah Arendt, “to act in concert.” As Edmund Burke, the 18th century conservative thinker, observed, “The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men [and women] to do nothing.”
One of my recent posts had 70 shares. This virtual version of a teach-in is paying dividends by spreading “old-fashioned” facts and analysis. As the new masthead of the Washington Post proclaims, “Democracy Dies in Darkness.” For my part, I will continue my daily Trump teach-in posts, providing my readers with a little daylight. However, as the old adage goes, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.