American Democracy: On the Ropes, or Re-Invigorated?

By William “Duke” Smither

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January 6, 2021 Riot Assault on U.S. Capitol

“The surface of American society is covered with a layer of democratic paint, but from time to time one can see the old aristocratic colours breaking through.” – Alexis Charles Henri Clérel, comte de Tocqueville (19th Century French political philosopher and historian)

A ‘Failed Coup

In the wake of the December 2019 1st impeachment, and the run-up to yet another impeachment, the 2nd, for the 45th and former President of the United States, especially considering the events between Election Day 2020 and Inauguration Day 2021, much of the fuss and commotion seemed to dance around the nation’s concerns for the widening coronavirus pandemic and the deep-seated polarizations– political and racial—which appears to have America’s democracy, itself, extremely fatigued and ‘on the ropes’.

Particularly disturbing was the riotous ‘mob’ assault of January 6, 2021, the failed coup and related storming of the U.S. Capitol, behind bogus claims of a “stolen election,” as the balloting process was already a fait accompli. Now, however, with the nation teetering on the precipice of an unprecedented ‘second impeachment’, the jury is still out on exactly who is responsible for the harebrained scheme. Frankly, it already stinks as the brainchild of seditionists, likely punishable under the U.S. Criminal Code, Title 18, ‘Crimes and Criminal Procedure’. At least, my pre-retirement, career working experiences tells me that much.

Furthermore, as a U.S. Navy Veteran (Viet Nam Era and Cuban Missile Crisis), it was greatly troubling to see the public defilement of the ‘Flag of the United States’, superimposed with crass and profane political imagery, as the poles and rods used to fly the flag were used as deadly spears and spikes to viciously assault members of the U.S. National Guard, the Washington (D.C.) Metropolitan Police, and the U.S. Capitol Police. These actions directly resulted in the fatal injury of Capitol Police Officer Brian D. Sicknick. Reportedly, five people died and “nearly 140 officers” were severely injured, during the four- to five-hour melee.   

For Perspective’s Sake

It’s been one helluva year, 2020 that is. Factor in the entire period between Inauguration Day 2017 and Inauguration Day 2021, and you have one puredee nightmare! In my humble opinion, of course.

In recent months, I’ve refrained from posting or addressing this political quagmire, for several reasons, including current efforts in penning another novel, or venturing into reformatting this particular forum, away from a personal blog or niche musings, toward a more static website configuration, if one at all. Besides, being a “baby boomer” retiree, it’s probably time for me to simply move over and make way for the voices of more nimble fingered, tech-savvy folk, like my grandkids and other young professionals whom I’m becoming more and more impressed with, day by day.  

But, before I do, here’s a few more insightful words, mostly quotes, to think about. They’re not mine. They mostly belong to Monsieur Alexis Charles Henri Clérel, comte de Tocqueville, a French historian, lawyer and political scientist who penned some rather interesting analyses of post-revolution America and France: “Democracy in America, 1835,” and “The Old Regime and the Revolution, 1856”. I only knew him before as ‘Alexis de Tocqueville’, from high school French and Literature classes, long before being stationed in France and the Mediterranean Basin for several years, myself.

Profane’ to Profound?

From time to time, I’ve stumbled across his secularly profound musings, more like some philosophical bridge between two cultures, though centuries apart and more associated with the aftermath of the French Revolution, generally between May 1789 and November 1799 and the American Revolution, between 1765 and 1783, when ‘we the people’ of the ‘Thirteen Colonies’— political and social warts and all– finally weaned ourselves from the British Crown, “to form a more perfect union,” the United States of America… away from quintessential monarchical impulses.

What struck me the most was how Tocqueville’s observations seemingly applied to our nation’s current racialized social, economic, and political issues, much of which remains unaddressed, like the long-established mistreatment—real or imagined–  within the complex ethnic landscape of America’s so-called racial “minorities,” however you label them. Alexis de Tocqueville’s impressions include the following quotes:

  • “Nothing is more wonderful than the art of being free, but nothing is harder to learn how to use than freedom.”
  • “It is easier for the world to accept a simple lie than a complex truth.”
  • “Despotism alone can provide that atmosphere of secrecy which favors crooked dealing and enables the freebooters of finance to make illicit fortunes.”
  • “The greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults.”

To be sure, there were many more contextually-related, philosophical assumptions and observations within his working career. But these happened to be among the ones I became familiar with, whenever veering back and forth into the realm of French ‘Enlightenment’ thinking, as I now find myself doing once again. This time, it’s mostly within the review of social significances, of the Haitian Revolution, between 1791 and 1804, for the western hemispheric “New World,” today.

On the Drawing Boards

At this point, it involves manuscript character sketches within certain events, approaching the ultimate coup d’état in the former French colony of Saint-Domingue, on the Caribbean island of Hispaniola; it’s the pending sequel to my earlier novel, “Backroads to ‘Bethlehem’: Odysseys of the Maroon Warrior….,” hopefully, to be published later this year.

Meanwhile, I’m still concerned about the aggressive gerrymandering and voter suppression tactics, evident within recent elections, as well as the almost daily deluge of lies, hateful rhetoric, and conspiracy theories which should be immediately purged from across our nation’s political landscape.

It’s why I’m looking forward to the refreshing, more forward-looking Biden-Harris Administration [President Joe Biden – Vice President Kamala Harris], and how they might reinvigorate America’s democracy, while restoring decency and rebuilding trust at home, as well as among our allies.

Like Monsieur Tocqueville, I firmly believe that America has the ‘ability to repair her faults’. Only time will tell, I suppose…

About William "Duke" Smither (formerly, penname "Backstreet D'jeli")

William "Duke" Smither, author of "Passage(s) to Saint-Domingue..." and “Backroads to 'Bethlehem'..." is a Frankfort Kentucky native; Richmond Virginia resident. Retired Public Utility Sr. Investigator and nuclear site worker, Married w/ 3 children and 6 grandchildren; U.S. Navy Viet Nam Era & Cuban Missile Crisis Veteran; Member of "Cuban Blockade Survivors" & The American Legion; B.S. Degree (Business Mgmt) w/ independent studies in Ancient African History and African-American History. Post-graduate studies in Criminal Justice Administration. Former Sports & Feature writer for the weekly Richmond Afro-American Newspaper, during Freshman year of college. Retirement activities include: Freelance writer, playwright, actor and director of faith-based community theater productions; founder of "Backstreet's Blog" ("Talking Drum Dialogues") at and former contributing writer for "BlackPast.Org," the international, on-line reference center for African American History. His debut novel, “Backroads to 'Bethlehem'...,” is the first installment of a Trilogy on marronage and resistance. The second installment ["Passage(s) to Saint-Domingue: Jakobe's Journey..."], was released on December 30, 2021. Book #3 is underway, pending completion in the not-too-distant future.