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Opinion

To preserve democracy, not to practice it

TO THE QUICK - Jerry Tundag - The Freeman

I love the phrase in the title above and have used it as often as I can when possible. It was uttered by the character of Gene Hackman in the movie "Crimson Tide" in arguing with the character of Denzel Washington on whether or not to launch a preemptive nuclear strike from their submarine. "We are here to preserve democracy, not to practice it," was how Hackman's character, a US Navy captain, said it.

That line reveals the exact relationship between the US and democracy. America jealously guards democracy, never mind if it actually debauches it in the process. There is no limit to the extremes to which it is invoked, never mind if there is little or no democracy left to speak of, eroded by the excesses committed in its name. Democracy's hallmark of freedom becomes meaningless in the exercise by some at the expense of others.

Last November 22, Donald Trump hosted dinner at his Mar-a-lago for rapper Kanye West, who brought along a guest. The guest was a certain Nick Fuentes, who has gained notoriety as a white supremacist and as a Holocaust denier. As word got out about the dinner, the anti-Trump forces quickly went to town with anything and everything, from brickbats to the kitchen sink. Not surprisingly, CNN led the charge.

Fuentes may be a despicable person loathed by those who do not agree with his views. But that does not deprive him or those who agree with him the right to be secure in their views nor to enjoy the freedoms guaranteed them by the US Constitution to exercise such views. Dinner? Since when has a normal human activity become an excuse for political assassination and bigoted orgy.

On September 24, 2007 the Iranian president, Mahmud Ahmadinejad, spoke at New York City's Columbia University, one of the eight Ivy League schools and one of America's best learning institutions. Mahmud, based on descriptions assigned to him, was even worse than Fuentes. He has been described not only also as a Holocaust denier but a despot and hater of homosexuals, who boasted there are no gays in Iran.

Lee Bollinger, president of Columbia at the time, defended his invitation of Mahmud as an "exercise of free speech and academic freedom." Then he proceeded to shame Mahmud in his introduction: "What is at stake is the ability to learn about the world and know about people, even dictators who are highly repressive and highly dangerous as Dr. Ahmadinejad."

The era of Trump had not begun at the time Mahmud spoke at Columbia but it would not be a surprise if criticisms of the Iranian leader's visit hewed along the same lines as those about the Trump-Fuentes dinner. They all point to the same thing: There is only democracy in the world. No Nazis, communists, fascists, dictators. But the exercise of democracy is not for everyone. Trump, for one, cannot have his dinner in peace.

Nothing in Mahmud's and Fuentes' denial of the Holocaust would endear them to anyone. But of all places, it ought not to be in America that they get deprived of their right to exercise their own business, express their own views. It is not necessarily in agreement that they be allowed to say their piece, to be defended to the death their right to say it. It is just letting democracy flow as it should.

When it is so bad in America and for Americans for Mahmud and Fuentes to deny a factual episode of history and yet perfectly all right for some to deny biological facts and cancel those who do not subscribe to a new narrative, then something must be terribly askew with democracy. Suddenly speaking softly while carrying a big stick becomes all too real. In American democracy you have a choice and it will be picked for you.

DENZEL WASHINGTON

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