Op-Ed: Michigan’s role in supporting democracy

Wednesday, November 4, 2020 - 12:13pm

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As University of Michigan graduates and native Detroiters, we are aware that our home state has a rich community of universities and colleges. Its graduates have played a significant role in American history and in the growth and development of the state. Today, a new challenge faces them: the future of American democracy. 

The threats to the country’s domestic and national security from President Donald Trump’s administration make it especially important for Michigan voters. We feel strongly about this because we worked in national security for many years, having served in the U.S. Department of State and with the Department of Defense and Department of Justice. 

We are deeply worried about the kinds of violent rhetoric Trump has aimed at the governor of Michigan and other political figures, including his opponent, Vice President Joe Biden, and against the Black Lives Matter movement. In a TV interview last month, Trump’s daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, excused the danger by saying the president was just having fun when he led chants of “lock her up” against Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. 

“He wasn’t doing anything, I don’t think, to provoke people to threaten this woman at all. He was having fun at a Trump rally, and, quite frankly, there are bigger issues than this right now for everyday Americans,” Lara Trump said during a CNN interview. 

But these kinds of verbal attacks, and his previous calls in April to “liberate” the state capitol in Lansing, are all too similar to the kind of incitement that the Al Qaeda and ISIS terrorist organizations used to encourage “lone wolves” or small groups to conduct attacks in the U.S., Europe and the Middle East. 

The leaders of these terror groups don’t have to send specific orders to their adherents. The susceptible and already radicalized young men responded to internet calls and rationales for action. They carried out shootings and car attacks on their own, without explicit direction from an organization. We can help counter these kinds of threats by defeating a president who refuses to strongly condemn these kinds of domestic terrorists who plotted to kidnap and kill our governor and threatened other state capitols.

Meanwhile, COVID-19 has created a crisis requiring action on all levels — federal, state, local and private. Trump’s attacks on Whitmer and even on scientists are, unfortunately, all too typical of his behavior. That behavior includes both poor leadership of the federal government and bizarre endorsements of dangerous medicines and unproven medical practices. However, most worrisome are his claims of unfettered power in open rejection of the Constitution, as well as his personal and official behavior, which has violated more than 200 years of established norms. 

This behavior has included the ideological destruction of the country’s traditional national conservative political party. The current Trump-led Republican Party is Republican in name only. It bears little or no resemblance to the party of Michiganders such as the late Sen. Arthur Vandenberg or former President Gerald Ford, not to mention national figures such as late Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah and Presidents Eisenhower, Reagan, George Bush. Without the balance of a responsible conservative element, the ship of state is unseaworthy. 

America needs the reconstruction of such a conservative movement and a reduction in the sharp partisanship which enabled Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to block action on more than 300 pieces of legislation that had passed the House of Representatives. But achieving this requires the restoration of traditional American political norms, which requires a political defeat of Trump and his enablers in the Republican Party in this election. 

Biden has a long history of working in a bipartisan manner. He is the right person to help cleanse American politics of its current flood of virulent partisanship. This is an opportunity for the return of responsibility and civility in American political life. Once civility has been restored, we could turn to deal with our real problems. 

Michigan played a significant role in Trump eking out a narrow Electoral College victory in 2016 and as of this writing, Michigan has narrowly voted for Biden. Once more, Michigan is a key state. We commend all those, especially the students, parents, friends and alumni of Michigan’s universities and colleges who voted and worked to help to defend American democracy in 2020.

Ambassador (Rtd) Edward Marks, who graduated in 1956 from the University of Michigan, served as Deputy Coordinator of the State Department's Office of Counterterrorism and later with the Defense Department. Michael Kraft, a former Editorial Director of The Michigan Daily who graduated in 1959 from the University, later worked as a news agency Washington reporter, foreign correspondent and a Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff member. He later served as a senior adviser in the State Department Counterterrorism office and at the National Defense University. Together, they co-authored two books on U.S. counterterrorism policies and programs.


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