When Our Democracy Is at Risk, It’s Time to Roll Up Our Sleeves

May 3, 2018

Last week, the White House's top lawyer referred to Islam as "one of the greatest countries in the world" in our nation's highest court. The blunder, which capped off a morning of high stakes oral arguments over the Muslim ban, served as both a telling Freudian slip and the perfect encapsulation of just how far our government's credibility and competence have plummeted. When we can no longer trust our most sacred institutions to maintain even the most basic standards of truth and fidelity, our democracy as we know it falls under attack, and marginalized communities are the first to suffer.

As Muslims, we put our faith in God, and as Americans we similarly trust that the pillars of society our nation was founded upon will outlast even the most turbulent periods of poor leadership. And yet, one by one, we’ve seen those very pillars themselves become systematically eroded like never before.

When the President attacks and publicly flirts with firing special counsel Robert Mueller, he is not just engaging in an ego battle, he is flagrantly undermining one of the most important mechanisms we have for holding the presidency itself accountable. When his legal team argues that a President “can’t obstruct justice,” what they’re really saying is that Trump is above the law and its consequences. 

When the President breaks established precedent by adding a question on citizenship to the 2020 Census, after the Bureau’s own experts argue that it’s far too late to tweak the massive survey and that the question will likely depress immigrant participation, the result is not just a temporary enactment of a discriminatory policy but a wholesale loss of faith in the Census as an institution itself that may not be fully repaired for decades.

When the President doesn’t just comment on but demands that a private institution exact punishment for peaceful protests against racial injustice, he is imbuing his office with the unrestricted power to quash free speech wherever it occurs. That terrifying prospect is further underscored with his every dismissal of objective reporting on his actions as fake news, no matter how well-sourced -- even when the only source is his own words. By questioning the role of the entire fourth estate, he is deciding that the American people should simply be satisfied with his provision of alternative facts rather than the truth. 

When the integrity of our elections suddenly becomes an open question, in part due to foreign actors wreaking havoc on our democratic process on the backs of marginalized communities, it can become all too easy for average citizens to question whether their participation even counts. That fear is doubly legitimized when our own policymakers are increasing their attacks on voter participation from poor and marginalized communities by raising the nonexistent specter of “voter fraud” and the outright purging of voter rolls.

There is a depressingly unending stream of other ways in which our nation is experiencing a steep democratic decline. And while it’s only natural and justified for communities like ours to respond with feelings of despair and apathy, it’s just as important to realize that disengagement is exactly what the architects of the slide crave most. When we step away from our democratic institutions, hate and xenophobia reign free and unchecked. When we concede that our systems of governance are beyond repair, we willingly give more credit and license to those in power than they deserve. Indeed, it is especially in these moments, when alarms are ringing in every direction, that we must defiantly hold our ground while the soul of our nation hangs in the balance.

Fortunately, American Muslims are doing just that. Rather than be dissuaded by the rise in anti-Muslim sentiment at the highest levels of our government, a record number of Muslims are running for office across the country. When Mueller began subpoenaing Trump associates, veteran prosecutor Zainab Ahmad’s name often appeared as a co-signature. Here at MPAC, we regularly join fellow Muslim institutions as well as leaders from a wide cross-section of other marginalized communities to engage with our principles firmly in place and our message clear: no matter how hard some may try to expel the voices of truth and integrity from America’s most sacred democratic institutions, we will not be intimidated and we will continue working together to protect the bedrock principles that our country was founded upon.



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