“This ‘one nation, indivisible’ is deeply divided along political, economic, racial and religious lines. And despite our historic dream of being “a light unto the nations,” the gaps between us and our global neighbors continue to grow more deadly. The conflicts and contradictions of twenty–first century life are breaking the American heart and threatening to compromise our democratic values.” – Parker Palmer

“The human heart is the first home of democracy. It is where we embrace our questions. Can we be equitable? Can we be generous? Can we listen with our whole beings, not just our minds, and offer our attention rather than our opinions? And do we have enough resolve in our hearts to act courageously, relentlessly, without giving up—ever—trusting our fellow citizens to join with us in our determined pursuit of a living democracy?” Terry Tempest Williams, “Engagement,” as quoted by Parker J. Palmer, “Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit.”

You have the 45th U.S. President Donald Trump at rallies injecting himself in the midterms elections and says to his base: “These two maniacs stopped our momentum.” 

Yet, he failed to inform his base that one of these maniacs, Robert Bowers, is now accused of killing 11 folks in a Jewish synagogue in Pittsburgh, while another maniac he refers to is Cesar Sayoc, a Filipino-Italian who sent 15 pipe bombs to the leaders of the Democratic Party. These were attempted assassinations of two past U.S. presidents, a former secretary of state, a former vice president and more.

While these unhinged presidential actions are occurring during the midterm elections, actions unprecedented in America and known to be prevalent in developing countries, we know something is so wrong about America.

We know something is unhinged when the most powerful man in the world acts beneath his presidential position and foments hatred at the rallies by calling the press the “enemy of the people,” the only profession whose practice of freedom of expression is enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, you wonder why he keeps doing it?

In Pittsburgh, he insisted on visiting the city in spite of the request of the mayor and local officials not to, as resources will be diverted for his protection. Instead, the president still came with the First Lady and local officials shunned him while thousands protested his presence, held a block away from the synagogue.

We wonder why all folks of color are labeled rapists and murderers and now a caravan of refugees from Central America are being labeled as harboring gangs and Middle Easterns by this U.S. president when in fact these are families fleeing violence? 

The Pittsburgh massacre suspect said that he had to do it because America is being invaded by these diseased migrants that will lead to the dilution of the white race and he needed to act to stop this compelling emergency by going to the Pittsburgh synagogue and fired upon these Jewish synagogue worshippers.

What has happened to America’s democracy? Can its heart be healed? Can women coming of age give us examples of how to be decent Americans and how to move forward with truth?

Can the U.S. Supreme Court’s past decision about press freedom enlighten us today that this current president’s media reference as “the enemy of the people” is unconstitutional and wrong?

Women coming of age 

I watched the 2017 film, “The Post,” could not quite adjust my feelings towards how indecisive Katharine Graham, the former owner and publisher of The Washington Post, was portrayed. 

She was meticulously adept in asking questions of her inner circle, but somehow clueless in recognizing she has the authority to make the final decision. She was depicted as ambivalent and conflict-evasive, which she admits in her personal memoirs. 

That was until portions of the Pentagon Papers were delivered to the Washington Post’s assignment editor and thousands of pages were given by Daniel Ellsberg. 

That marked her turning point, a qualitative leap for the common good, what I call one of her moral cornerstones marked by uplifting and exposing the truth!

She made a crucial strategic decision, of publishing the Pentagon Papers, which catapulted the Washington Post into a credible source of news, facts, evidence and true to its mission as a newspaper. The Washington Post became a key resource for national news. 

Russ Wiggins wrote a personal note to the staff: “Philip L. Graham has left in our daily care and custody an honest and a conscientious newspaper which I know that all of you are eager to maintain as a daily memorial to his own genius and integrity. And now we must take up the duties he laid upon us, with a heavy heart, but nonetheless with a high hope that we may succeed in doing what he would have us do.”

I just finished reading Katharine’s Pulitzer Prize-winning memoirs and how she evolved from being supportive of Pres. Lyndon B. Johnson’s actions in Vietnam and later, developed her personal opposition towards the war, given her eldest son’s personal letters to her, while deployed as a soldier in Vietnam.

He wrote about the senseless violence towards an ill-defined cause and for which did not quite advance the national security interests of the United States.

The Post continued to report on the Vietnam War, and the 500,000 U.S. soldiers deployed there. It then grew its editorial department in 1966-1969, when Post added 50 positions and its budget grew from $2.25 million to $7 million in 1969.

Katharine is depicted in the film, “The Post,” as nervously taking a stand to publish the Pentagon Papers and closely monitoring the backlash while at the same time, she experienced the solidarity of the newspapers around the U.S., who followed The Washington Post’s lead to publish the “verboten” Pentagon Papers.

Katharine rationalized her decision in keeping with the newspaper’s mission and putting the nation’s interests before the papers.

It piqued my curiosity to keep reading about Katharine and her resolve, her convictions, and even her own stance, amidst being surrounded, influenced, criticized meanly, and strongly pressured by strong men around her, including Pres. Johnson.

The impact of a woman’s decision: The Washington Post and New York Times’ US Supreme Court decision

It is a life that she allowed other folks to guide her, but also her inner convictions to stand by her decisions. 

For example, it took tremendous courage for her to set a precedent of publishing the Pentagon Papers, then, joined in a lawsuit with the New York Times, and then, to wait nervously for the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision, 6-3. The decision, written by Justice Black, excerpted here in part:

“In the First Amendment, the Founding Fathers gave the free press the protection it must have to fulfill its essential role in our democracy. The press was to serve the governed, not the governors. The Government’s power to censor the press was abolished so that the press would remain forever free to censure the Government. The press was protected so that it could bare the secrets of government and inform the people. Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government.

“And paramount among the responsibilities of a free press is the duty to prevent any part of the government from deceiving the people and sending them off to distant lands to die of foreign fevers and foreign shot and shell. In my view, far from deserving condemnation for their courageous reporting, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and other newspapers should be commended for serving the purpose that the Founding Fathers saw so clearly. In revealing the workings of government that led to the Vietnam war, the newspapers nobly did precisely that which the Founders hoped and trusted they would do.

“The Government’s case here is based on premises entirely different from those that guided the Framers of the First Amendment. The Solicitor General has carefully and emphatically stated: 

“Now, Mr. Justice [BLACK], your construction of . . . [the First Amendment] is well known, and I certainly respect it. You say that no law means no law, and that should be obvious. I can only [p718] say, Mr. Justice, that to me it is equally obvious that “no law” does not mean “no law,” and I would seek to persuade the Court that that is true. . . . [T]here are other parts of the Constitution that grant powers and responsibilities to the Executive, and . . . the First Amendment was not intended to make it impossible for the Executive to function or to protect the security of the United States.

“And the Government argues in its brief that, in spite of the First Amendment,[t]he authority of the Executive Department to protect the nation against publication of information whose disclosure would endanger the national security stems from two interrelated sources: the constitutional power of the President over the conduct of foreign affairs and his authority as Commander-in-Chief.

“In other words, we are asked to hold that, despite the First Amendment’s emphatic command, the Executive Branch, the Congress, and the Judiciary can make laws enjoining publication of current news and abridging freedom of the press in the name of “national security.” The Government does not even attempt to rely on any act of Congress. Instead, it makes the bold and dangerously far-reaching contention that the courts should take it upon themselves to “make” a law abridging freedom of the press in the name of equity, presidential power and national security, even when the representatives of the people in Congress have adhered to the command of the First Amendment and refused to make such a law.

“To find that the president has ‘inherent power’ to halt the publication of news by resort to the courts would wipe out the First Amendment and destroy the fundamental liberty and security of the very people the Government hopes to make ‘secure.’

“No one can read the history of the adoption of the First Amendment without being convinced beyond any doubt that it was injunctions like those sought here that Madison and his collaborators intended to outlaw in this Nation for all time.

“The word ‘security’ is a broad, vague generality whose contours should not be invoked to abrogate the fundamental law embodied in the First Amendment. The guarding of military and diplomatic secrets at the expense of informed representative government provides no real security for our Republic. The Framers of the First Amendment, fully aware of both the need to defend a new nation and the abuses of the English and Colonial governments, sought to give this new society strength and security by providing that freedom of speech, press, religion, and assembly should not be abridged. This thought was eloquently expressed in 1937 by Mr. Chief Justice Hughes—great man and great Chief Justice that he was—when the Court held a man could not be punished for attending a meeting run by Communists.”

“The greater the importance of safeguarding the community from incitements to the overthrow of our institutions by force and violence, the more imperative is the need to preserve inviolate the constitutional rights of free speech, free press and free assembly in order to maintain the opportunity for free political discussion, to the end that government may be responsive to the will of the people and that changes, if desired, may be obtained by peaceful means. Therein lies the security of the Republic, the very foundation of constitutional government.”

Would you, as sworn U.S. citizens make your voices known to our elected leaders that you want the truth, and nothing but the truth and that means uncensored news publications, and the responsible use of power at any levels (executive, legislative, judicial)?

Or would you blindly protect your perceived economic station in life and by indifference enable more lies to be told?

How would you act as guardians of American democracy? Would you pursue integrity as one of America’s foremost values by insisting on the truth?

Katharine Graham was not trained to be a CEO nor trained to be a publisher. She watched from the sidelines and did not have an opportunity to hold a full-time job until her husband died.

Yet she made the most visible, credibility-sustaining decisions for her newspaper, The Washington Post, displaying her personal courage, “the scope of her wisdom and power of compassion,” love for this country’s democratic freedoms.  

From that national exposé, it initiated a national debate to purge our nation from its involvement in an unjust war in Vietnam, which to the end, had 58,220 U.S. military fatal casualties, between 200,000 to 250,000 South Vietnamese soldiers dead and 1.1 million North Vietnamese and Viet Cong casualties. By far, the most casualties were incurred in World War II, battle deaths and civilians of all countries to have been 56.4 million. (Source: Britannica.com)

In examining your own lives, have you faced choices where you placed truth above lies, love of country first over your pocketbook, harmony over personal grudges and deep anger? 

What legacy are we building by our personal actions for our children and grandchildren? 

To this day, Katharine Graham’s personal decision of courage and commitment to the mission of truthful news information are inspiring.

If enough women of conviction and those coming into positions of power are leaders promoting truth, justice and fairness wherever they are, I dare say many more can follow their examples of integrity to create a new America where integrity is the currency of our national politics, culture and discussion.

Integrity allows the human heart to flourish which enriches any democracy. It is time to curse the darkness by telling the truth and becoming moral leaders of integrity in America.

* * *

Prosy Abarquez-Delacruz, J.D. writes a weekly column for Asian Journal, called “Rhizomes.” She has been writing for AJ Press for 10 years. She also contributes to Balikbayan Magazine. Her training and experiences are in science, food technology, law and community volunteerism for 4 decades. She holds a B.S. degree from the University of the Philippines, a law degree from Whittier College School of Law in California and a certificate on 21st Century Leadership from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. She has been a participant in NVM Writing Workshops taught by Prof. Peter Bacho for 4 years and Prof. Russell Leong. She has travelled to France, Holland, Belgium, Japan, Costa Rica, Mexico and over 22 national parks in the US, in her pursuit of love for nature and the arts.

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