OPINION | DEBRA HALE-SHELTON: A democracy on the edge

I’m afraid, and I don’t scare easily. When I worked for The Associated Press in Chicago, I walked home from work many nights hours before sunrise. While reporting on a child’s death, I walked alone into a gang-infested high-rise housing project a few miles away.

I once drove to church by way of a series of desolate Chicago neighborhoods where cab drivers would not venture. (I later found a congregation in a safer area.)

And in Conway, I did not let a murderer’s letter keep me away from work, even though he informed me he had read my article about his case and did not like it.

President Donald Trump’s blatant instigations of violence against journalists didn’t keep me away either, not even after the shooting deaths in the Capital Gazette’s Maryland newsroom in 2018.

But I’m scared now—for our nation’s democracy, for my family, for people of color, for the hungry and the sick, for people whose religion differs from what self-proclaimed evangelicals profess to believe. I’m even scared for Trump’s unflinchingly loyal disciples, for they likely have no idea of the dangers that could await even them if our democracy fails.

I do not worry about the senators, the representatives and the judges, for they know what’s in their best interest. They also know Trump doesn’t care. He’s more worried about his latest tweet and his latest prenuptial agreement than whether the pregnant woman will get the prenatal care she needs and survive childbirth or whether the underpaid teacher with coronavirus will get adequate health care.

The problem with Trump is not that he’s a powerful man but that he’s a power grabber, a mirror grabber and, by his own admission, a vagina grabber. He will ultimately do what he believes is best for the man in the mirror. So I pray that someone convinces him that his best future does not involve violence or anything more irrational than what he’s already done.

My concern extends to those who blindly worship Trump much as the uninformed masses and the military do in totalitarian countries. The would-be “dear leader” of the United States counts many though not all evangelicals and far too many racists and xenophobes among his followers.

Tomorrow’s “dear leader” might share that base of support, or he might prefer atheism, Mormonism, Judaism, Islam, Episcopal beliefs, or Catholicism and then seek to exclude everyone else. For once in power, totalitarian leaders can choose whatever religion, political party, and racial prejudice they want, and can demand that we share those views.

An authoritarian leader can and probably would ignore the U.S. Constitution. Forget ratification votes. After all, elections apparently don’t matter to Trump, the man who says he’s not a politician even as he brags of deal-making and panders to his political base.

A “dear leader” can revoke the Second Amendment. That’s the one that protects your hunting rifle, your handgun.

A “dear leader” also can singlehandedly revoke the First Amendment, the one that allows me to write this column and you to write a letter to the editor opposing it. And he can singlehandedly lock the doors to the church building, synagogue, cathedral or mosque where you worship.

I understand that Trump has much to lose by walking peacefully out of the White House. For one thing, he can be charged with a state crime even if he resigns early and Vice President Mike Pence pardons him of federal crimes.

For another, Trump reportedly has roughly $400 million in debt coming due during the next four years. If he waves the white flag, he may not have the power any longer to work out a deal with the lenders, foreign or otherwise, he owes. (I am tempted to use a stronger word than “deal” but shall refrain.)

Yes, Trump could leave this country as he has said he might. If he’s

short on money, he could probably bunk with Edward Snowden in Russia. Of course, if Vladimir Putin or Putin’s pals are the ones Trump owes, that might not be a great idea. Ditto Saudi Arabia and its crown prince, and they’re certainly not the kind of friends I’d want if I owed them money.

The longer Trump refuses to

acknowledge his defeat, the more irrational and more desperate he will appear. At this point, Trump would do well just to let the transition process begin. As it is, he’s endangering our democracy and our national security, for enemy countries can gloat and take advantage of our weaknesses when we are at war with ourselves.

We’ve had other close presidential elections. One was in 2016. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton quickly conceded. I didn’t hear anyone saying we should give her more time to accept defeat. She is an adult and acted like one, not like an untrained toddler going back and forth between home and the playground.

If former President Barack Obama had even mumbled about hanging out in the White House longer than he was elected to serve, I can only imagine the outcry. Those Confederate flags would have been in the back of more pickups than we could count.

A few things I’ve learned as a white woman who was single most of her life have become increasingly clear as I’ve grown older and, I think, wiser or perhaps more realistic.

First, a Black man who dares to be powerful is in for a struggle and plenty of hate in this country. Too many white people just don’t like the idea of a Black person telling them what to do.

Second, a woman of any color who dares to be powerful is in for both as well. If she is Black or Asian, she faces an even tougher fight. If she has ever openly had an affair, she’s branded for life and will be subjected to smears years later. And if she’s single, well, that’s just not allowed.

But let an amoral white man come along with an ego problem, a penchant for lies and

an unquenchable

for money, power and sexual partners, and he wins the favor and forever-pardon of evangelicals, from Franklin Graham to Prosperity Gospel advocate Paula White.

All that’s to say, I have what some may consider an outlandish idea. Maybe it’s time for Trump’s evangelical supporters and President-elect Joe Biden’s most liberal supporters to become a tad more ecumenical when it comes to our country.

After all, this is the United States. It’s not a church, it’s not a business, and it’s not a kingdom. It’s a democracy, at least for now.

Debra Hale-Shelton can be reached at dhaleshelton@gmail.com . Follow her on Twitter at @nottalking.