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Democracy Under Siege in America

Increasingly egregious attacks on democratic institutions and processes in the United States have a common denominator: bad faith. When those in charge of safeguarding the system turn out to represent the greatest threat to it, sustained protest becomes citizens' last recourse.

NEW YORK – Recent challenges to democratic institutions and processes in the United States have raised fundamental political and legal questions to which all liberal democracies must have convincing answers. When should military leaders refuse to follow presidential orders that they believe are unconstitutional? At what point do police take responsibility for the delegitimizing effect of racism? Why must journalists place the truth above the appearance of neutrality? And when should words or images deliberately used in defiance of demonstrable facts lose legal protections?

The challenges confronting the US provide some guidance. General Mark Milley, America’s top military official, was right to apologize for participating in President Donald Trump’s imperious walk across Lafayette Square in Washington, DC. Not only had tear gas and rubber bullets been used to clear the area of peaceful protesters, but Trump was obviously using the military as a pawn in domestic politics.

Similarly, there is reason to agree with Detroit Police Chief James Craig’s use of the word “murder” to describe the killing by Minneapolis police of George Floyd, an unarmed black man. The offending officer and his three colleagues should have known that pressing one’s knee on someone’s neck for over eight minutes is long enough to cause asphyxiation. Insofar as it is reasonable to infer intent from such an act, murder is a reasonable charge (assuming one accepts the premise that black lives matter).

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