PAULA MEHMEL: Shoot The Rapids — A Fall Into Authoritarianism

If you want to understand what a fall into authoritarianism looks like, a case in point is the vote to expel two representatives from the Tennessee state house who peacefully protested the Legislature’s failure to address gun violence after a school shooting that took six lives.

Rather than tackle one of the most challenging issues we face as a society and address gun violence legislatively, the Republican supermajority opted to act by silencing those who stood with peaceful protesters, including many children in schools, who are fearful for their lives, insisting that the lawmakers try to do something to help curb gun violence.

The overreaction by those in leadership to breaking a House rule by expelling an elected representative is akin to what happens in authoritarian governments all the time to keep those with whom they disagree fearful and quiet. Not surprisingly, a Republican who also broke House rules by recording a video that was edited misleadingly was not expelled or even charged.

If you want to understand what racism looks like, the Tennessee state House give us a classic example. Three representatives were accused of breaking the exact same rule. The two who were expelled were black men and the one who wasn’t  was a white woman. As the female representative, Gloria Johnson pointed out the only difference between her and Justin Johnson and Justin Pearson is the color of her skin.

It was a shameful day in American politics. My heart grieves for the people of Tennessee as it is on its way to becoming an authoritarian state, ignoring the will of the people by enshrining the sole power of a gerrymandered electorate while illustrating for the world what white privilege looks like.

My greatest prayer is that it will be a turning point that leads toward the rebuilding of voters rights and addressing systemic racism when the history of this era is written. My fervent hope is that it spurs more people to action and more people to vote, so that we can address the most devastating issues we face as a country rather than bullying and silencing those with whom we disagree. My deepest fear is that it will be just one more chapter in the decline of true democracy in America.

May the results of a betrayal of democracy this Holy Week lead to a Good Friday that ends with the resurrection of the American dream.

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