An Assault on American Democracy

and why educators can’t remain indifferent

Fernando M. Reimers

I was saddened and pained as I watched on television the assault on the Capitol of the United States by a group of zealots who sought to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power on which this democracy depends. As an immigrant to the United States I have deep love and appreciation for its democratic ideals, essence and traditions. American democracy is, as are all democracies, imperfect, an aspiration, a work in progress, always in the making. It is that work in progress that accounts for the increased representation of the diversity of the nation we see in today’s Congress and politics, relative to the past. It is that work in progress that accounts for legislative action over the history of the country to advance the rights of all Americans. But perhaps more than in the past achievements of American democracy, remarkable as they are, I see the genius of democracy in its promise, in the ideal it represents, in how it challenges us to keep working to advance equality, freedom and justice. This work in progress advances and flourishes when we all take responsibility to close the gap between ideals and reality, when we nourish a democratic culture in our daily acts and when we actively participate in politics, in our local communities and beyond to continue to bend the arc of history towards justice, to paraphrase former President Barack Obama.

But just as Democracy flourishes when we step up to participate in advancing democratic values, it languishes when we are indifferent, when sustaining a democratic culture becomes someone else’s business or, even worse, when we violate the basic values and norms of democratic governance and life, and become indifferent as those values and norms are assaulted.

What we saw yesterday, a group of people using violence to advance their political aims at preventing the peaceful transfer of power as established in the Constitution, is a grave assault on American democracy. It is not acceptable. Indifference and silence in the face of such an attempt to legitimize violence is complicity in the death of democracy.

I am pleased that many political and civic leaders have denounced and taken action in the face of this grave challenge. Members of Congress did what they should in completing their work early this morning in accepting the results of the election. Many have spoken about the gravity of the moment.

In the days, months and years ahead, we will define, in our words and deeds, or in our silence and indifference, whether yesterday’s chapter is an aberration or the beginning of a descent into a dark period in the history of this, the oldest standing democracy.

I am hopeful that we will all, including and especially those of us entrusted to educate, do what is in our power to sustain the democratic values, competencies and institutions that give us the possibility to take part in advancing the ideals of freedom, justice and equality.

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Fernando M. Reimers

Expert in Global Education, researching and teaching how to educate children and youth so they can thrive in complex and fluid times.