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    Monday, March 04, 2024

    Not the time for majority to keep silent

    There is no missing the fact that troubles have proliferated in many aspects of American society, nor that the country has entered an uncharted era.

    Anxiety and anger over a breathtaking range of issues — the ongoing pandemics of Covid and death by gun violence, the sudden change in abortion rights, ballooning inflation, persistent racism, mortal risks to the planet, drug prices and governmental corruption — are surging. It is not in anyone's interest to look the other way, much as they may wish they could.

    Fortunately, the United States of America was designed to handle moments such as this. Our republic comes with a built-in course correction device: the right of each adult to speak freely and to vote.

    The next Election Day looms. Four months from now, each state will elect all of its members of the U.S. House of Representatives. A third of U.S. Senate seats will be on the ballot. Connecticut will choose its governor and constitutional officers, a senator and all of its representatives to the state General Assembly.

    Voting is the way to balance the outsized influence of big donors and corporate interests on elections. Even before Election Day, however, a task lies before every American: This is no time for the majority to keep silent. There has never been a more critical time for citizens to speak out on issues that matter to them.

    President Richard Nixon used the term "silent majority" in a Nov. 3, 1969 speech asking Americans to support his plans, including those for Vietnam. Nixon did not coin the phrase, which had been in use since Roman times in various contexts. But he immortalized the meaning it still insinuates, that the majority of Americans would say they agreed with him if they said anything.

    Democracy factors in, indeed welcomes, the stabilizing influence of a silent majority. In quieter times people's tendency to go with the flow can create a respite after more tumultuous times like our own. But silence conveys what Nixon hoped it would — acquiescence with the policymakers. And that may not be the case.

    One dramatic upheaval to come is the intention telegraphed by the majority on the Supreme Court to question the foundations of earlier decisions that had established precedents. The ruling that rejected an Environmental Protection Agency means for regulating carbon dioxide emissions at existing power plants, for example, held that Congress cannot in effect delegate that authority by failing to make law. In other decisions, including the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the court has decided in favor of state legislatures' authority over the court's own precedent.

    The response of elected executives, from President Biden to Governor Lamont, has been to call for laws that would do what the court undid. Legislation is not the purview of the executive branch, however; it is the job of lawmakers. The years of stalemate and lack of compromise in Congress have consequences.

    So do elections. When nothing less than states' rights and the constitutional balance of powers are being re-envisioned, it is the normally quiet citizens whose voices and votes are needed most. The people in the middle need to be heard; the extremes on the right and left already have their say often and loudly.

    Keep in mind the common good. That is where the middle lies in a democracy.

    Among the high percentage of unaffiliated voters in Connecticut may be those who hesitate to speak up. They may find it helps to know that it's not necessary to join a political party to have a say. Plenty of citizen reformers have gotten involved over one issue that compels them. Do the homework on the issue. Seek out like-minded people. Write a Letter to the Editor or post an insight in a comment to an article on theday.com.

    The democratic process honors the right enshrined in the First Amendment to free speech. Sometimes that is a duty as well. Set an example of reasonable public discourse by peaceably exercising the right to express concerns, outrage and opinions. Those running for office will be listening.

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