Gary Horton | Vigilance Forever and Protecting Democracy from the Darkness

Take a good look at the Signal masthead. That thing at the top of the paper with the fierce-looking Eagle. “Vigilance Forever,” the banner calls out.

As long as I can remember, that warning and bold statement has stood atop and superior to every article in every Signal newspaper. And for good reason:

“The price of liberty is eternal vigilance.” This quote, attributed first to author Thomas Charlton, lays it out in no uncertain terms. Paraphrased: “If you want liberty, you’re going to have to constantly be aware, constantly be attentive, constantly watch.”

But watching who and what?

Defending liberty means constantly watching and ensuring our leaders promote and protect our liberty. Unfortunately, by way of greed, human weakness, and corruption, some leaders would prefer to enrich themselves rather than promote the liberty of their constituents.

Consider the trend happening in the world all around. Once-dependable democracies such as Turkey are falling to dictatorships. Neo-democracies such as Russia and Hungary are increasingly controlled by strong men and oligarchs hiding behind a mask of “democracy.” Here in America, our democratic norms are challenged by a president who prefers dictatorial benefits over presidential obligations and norms. 

Democracy and liberty are fragile.

Another newspaper I respect also boasts a compelling masthead. “Democracy Dies in Darkness,” warns the Washington Post. The Post, famous for outing Richard Nixon, particularly focuses on ferreting out all those nasty acts and facts that corrupt leaders would prefer to hide away in their dark corners.

“Eternal Vigilance” and “Democracy Dies in Darkness” are America’s brothers in arms protecting our democracy. They are not passive. They are not casual observers. Together, they are the ultimate watchdog of liberty, justice, and the ultimate firewall against corruption. Despite corrupt leaders’ wishes otherwise, the press remains a powerful Fourth Estate of our government. They rightfully remain prickly, annoying, infuriating and invasive. For when the scent of corruption arises they come at conniving and corrupt public servants like hungry dogs. That’s their job. It’s what they’re supposed to do. A free and open press keeps us safe from political corruption and harm.

From the start, Donald Trump had unprecedented ghosts in his closet. From past hookers to bankruptcies to mob connections, to Russian links – perhaps no prior president has entered the White House so compromised. Knowing his vulnerabilities, he attacked the Fourth Estate ferociously and continuously. “Fake News!” is now all news – just about anything but the adoring pandering of Fox and Friends. Sensing his weaknesses, Trump went on an attack.

Imagine: The president of the United States would call out eternal vigilance, protecting democracy from darkness, as, “fake news…”

Indeed, Trump’s barrage against the free press has decayed the press’ image overall — and fully toppled it in the minds of his “base.” Hardcore Trump supporters view virtually any negative news on Trump as… fake. Alternate facts replace real news and now, having been properly softened up and conditioned, a die-hard Trump fan can toss disturbing news into the waste-bin knowing such a stable genius is busy at the helm, protecting us all as he tweets insanities at 3 a.m. from dark corners of the White House.

Yet, despite Trump’s efforts to discredit the press, it remains true that democracy does die in darkness. And enduring freedom requires that a pesky and invasive press presses on; to probe, to disturb, to turn over every rock and to insure our leader’s actions remain in the best interest of the people. 

So, if there’s nothing to hide, why hide it? It’s the hiding itself that raises such a whiff and stench of corruption.

Those long-promised Trump tax returns never did get released, did they? No. Rather, enormous presidential efforts work to keep them completely hidden away in a very dark place. That prostitute Trump publicly denied knowing? That lie was exposed when the payoff check showed up. That Trump charity? Got shut down for fraud. There’s so much more than a whiff of corruption stench in the air. There’s a plainly visible smoke screen of corruption surrounding Trump, and now there’s fire sightings, too.

A secret mobster-like deal to dig dirt up on Biden got muscled in on Ukraine. Nice country you’ve got here, would be a pity should something happen to it. Trump held up approved funds for Ukraine’s defense unless they dug up dirt benefiting Trump’s campaign. So blatant was this, a whistle-blower arose and brought light to this wretched darkness. The press caught the scent and no one’s going away until this fire of corruption is extinguished.

Many may not like the unease all this causes. Many would prefer a more “respectful” press. Nothing but good news would be easier on our sense of well-being. But wellbeing isn’t the product the press is charged with producing. Vigilantly defending democracy against darkness is what they do.

There’s a lot of darkness all around Trump’s White House. Eternal vigilance indeed is required now, more than ever.

Gary Horton’s “Full Speed to Port!” has appeared in The Signal since 2006. The opinions expressed in his column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Signal or its editorial board.

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