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Leonard Pitts: We could lose our country, or save it

‘What are these politicians going to do for us?”

A guy in Texas asked that question a few weeks back on “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee,” by way of explaining why he won’t be voting in the most important midterm election in modern American history. His words have been playing on an endless loop in my head ever since. You’ll seldom hear electoral apathy, ignorance and cynicism more concisely illustrated.

Moreover, he reflects an understanding of politics as solely a transactional process: Vote for this, get that. But for however much casting a ballot is a way to get, it is also, and perhaps even more so, a way to say. One thinks of Norman Rockwell’s famous “Four Freedoms” painting of an ordinary guy standing up in a public meeting to speak his piece. That’s what voting is.

If the evocation of that image seems corny, that’s OK. We could use a little corniness just now, could do with a sentimental nod to the foundation stones we claim to cherish: liberty, justice, equality, decency, democracy, compassion and all that other old-fashioned hokum. Because here’s the thing:

We could lose it all. We could lose our country here.

Maybe you think that’s alarmist. But anyone who is sanguine about America’s future has not been paying attention to America’s present.

Let’s take an episode from last week as an instructive example. As you will recall, the president claimed the power, at his sole discretion, to overturn the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which is patently absurd. That’s not the way America works. A president cannot declare some part of the Constitution — the Constitution! — null and void on his authority. Only dictators can do that.

But if this guy thinks he has that power, what else might he think he can do? Knowing him as we do, is it far-fetched to imagine a scenario where he gins up some fake crisis in 2020 and uses it to postpone the election? Or is it inconceivable that, having lost that election, he refuses to surrender power, claiming the process was “rigged”?

So yes, we could, indeed, lose our country here. And not just because of him, but also because of us — how he has changed us.

Can you imagine for a moment the explosive uproar that would have ensued had any other president made such a tyrannical — not to say fascistic — claim? If Obama had done it, Sean Hannity would’ve had a stroke, live on air. And he’d have been justified and would not have been alone. It would have been the story of the year. Opprobrium would have rained down like bricks.

But not with this guy. Under him we live with routine chaos, ordinary outrage, normal abnormality. Infants are stolen from parents, the Army is sent against refugees, America dishonors its agreements, kicks its friends and caresses its foes, while this truth-challenged man insists we’re not seeing what we’re seeing, that white is black, up is left and two plus two equals marshmallows. And it’s just another day in the life. We are inured.

Now some nonvoter wants to know what politicians are going to do for us? Wrong question. Tuesday is about what we do for ourselves, for our country. It is about whether those of us who see this madness for what it is acquiesce to it or whether, like the guy in Rockwell’s painting, we stand up and speak out. It shouldn’t be a hard choice.

If you find this calamity unacceptable, make your case.

If you think we should be better than this, raise your voice.

If you are disgusted and appalled, make yourself heard.

Because we could absolutely lose America. Or, we could save it.

What do you say?

Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald. Email him at lpitts@miamiherald.com.

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