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Casey Martin: Citizens must enforce rules of democracy in the age of Trump

Our democracy is built on foundations of respect and honesty. We must not let Donald Trump’s administration shatter them, writes guest columnist Casey Martin.
Our democracy is built on foundations of respect and honesty. We must not let Donald Trump’s administration shatter them, writes guest columnist Casey Martin. THE KANSAS CITY STAR

We all know someone who has tried to change the rules in the middle of the game. You hit the winning shot in a pick-up game and hear, “Sorry, gotta win by two.” Everyone else knew the rules — first to 21 wins — but you take the high road and play another point because the rule-changer will likely throw a fit.

That’s the Trump administration. The new president and his team are trying to change the rules mid-game, and we have a duty as citizens to act as referee and enforce the rules of democracy. These basic principles of our representative government must be upheld for the sake of our governing institutions and our collective sanity:

1. Everyone is equal under the law, and our leaders must not only abide by its letter, but also its spirit.

Throughout his career, Donald Trump sought legal loophole after legal loophole to maximize profits and insulate himself from public scrutiny. He will never release his tax returns, and he will never fully divest from his businesses to avoid conflicts of interest. His reasoning: The law does not technically require him to do so. The spirit of these laws is to provide We the People with the information necessary to make sound decisions about our leaders — the basis of democracy. By flaunting his belief that the rules do not apply to him, Trump weakens the office of the president and challenges our faith in the rule of law.

2. We must treat one another with dignity and respect and cultivate empathy for those with whom we disagree.

The extraordinary list of folks insulted by Trump over the course of his campaign is well known. Most of us can likely agree that President Trump is not a very nice guy. In fact, he would likely associate many of the attributes of nice people with “weakness.”

Nice people are respectful of others’ opinions and feelings; they seek to understand the circumstances that led to those opinions and feelings; and they consider how their own words or actions may adversely affect others. Not only are these good manners, they also help us understand opposing viewpoints and seek consensus. Instead of fighting insult with insult, we must “kill them with kindness,” because disparaging one another will never lead to positive results.

3. Basic facts must form the foundation for public discourse and policymaking.

We use facts to make educated decisions on issues that impact our daily lives in ways large and small. When the president falsifies something as trivial as his inaugural crowd size, he breeds distrust and demonstrates a willful disregard for observable fact. Science tells us humans are changing the climate, economists tell us inequality is increasing, and the press plays a vital role in holding leaders accountable.

Skepticism is healthy, but when the overwhelming evidence points to one conclusion, let’s add it to our common understanding and get to work.

By ignoring or attempting to change these basic rules of democracy, the Trump administration sets a poor example for the rest of us. This unfortunate conduct at the top makes it even more important that the rest of us hold fast to these simple rules in our daily discussions with co-workers, during Facebook debates with crazy relatives, and especially when we vote.

When we support the rule of law and engage in civil discourse based on facts, we can focus on the hard work of forming a more perfect union instead screaming about who drew the biggest crowd.

Casey Martin is a lawyer and the chairman of the Kansas City Board of Election Commissioners.

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