COURIER NEWSROOM – Don Foote: Our democracy has survived a lot – and it can survive MAGA extremism


As a 90-year-old Navy veteran and proud American, preserving the sanctity and security of our democracy is a core value of mine – and it has been for over seven decades. And as a proud Texan, I am not going to fall in line for politicians who don’t have the spine, nor the dignity, to uphold the tenets embedded in our Constitution.

January 6th left an indelible mark on my mind and the history of our nation. Since then, I’ve dedicated the remainder of my life to speaking out about the importance of securing our democracy for generations to come. We are fast approaching the 2024 presidential election, which will be one of the most important elections of our lifetimes – and I say that as someone who has witnessed over 20 of them. Now is the time to increase our efforts as a collective to combat MAGA extremists and the evident threat they pose to our democracy. We need everyone, no matter how young or old, to do their part in protecting our democracy, respecting the sanctity of our elections, and stopping the trajectory of political violence in this country.

I’ve witnessed some of the most significant tragedies in American history. I was born at the end of the Great Depression, right when President Franklin D. Roosevelt was first elected. I lived through World War II. I will always remember the day of November 22, 1963, when a customer came running into the store shouting, “He’s been killed!! President Kennedy has just been shot in Dallas!” We turned on the radio and put it on the speaker for all shoppers to hear. We were all in a state of disbelief – numbed for a few minutes. Then came the news that President Kennedy was indeed dead and Lyndon B. Johnson would be sworn in as the 36th President of the United States. But through it all, I’ve always seen Americans come together and help one another to improve the world around them.

January 6th was a direct and open attack on our democracy that was unlike anything I had ever witnessed. The events of that day shook my faith in our country’s ability to do what needs to be done to uphold our democratic institutions. As a young man, I joined the Navy during the Korean War because I believed that our democracy and its values were worth defending. But for the first time, on January 6, 2021, as I watched extremists climb the steps of the Capitol carrying weapons of war, symbols of hate, and Confederate and American flags, I began to fear for this country that I love.

In a fully functioning democracy, both sides of the aisle would have immediately condemned the actions of the insurrectionists. However, instead, MAGA extremists in Congress have shown their true colors by trying to rewrite the history of that sad day. I’ve seen the news and read the papers. One day extreme politicians are calling insurrectionists “hostages” and another day they are calling them “victims” and “warriors.” They continue to demonstrate that they don’t care about the truth and are putting their own agenda above our democracy.

MAGA extremists from across the country went to the nation’s capital intending to disrupt the certification of a free and fair election. They were then aided by extremist members of Congress refusing to certify the November 2020 election results. Many of them continue to propagate this lie to this day. I can’t say strongly enough how disheartened I am by their cowardice. It makes me wonder: how did we get here as a country? And what can we, as everyday Americans, do to fight back and ensure our democracy survives?

I think the answer begins with how democracy has changed within my lifetime. For many people today – especially young people – democracy has been the default, but that was not always the case. When I was born, the overwhelming majority of countries in the world were autocracies with the U.S. being a notable exception. However, today, more than half of all countries have democratically elected governments. Even many authoritarian governments  claim to be “democratic.” Democracy is now the standard. And if you grow up with democracy being the norm, as many people have now, it is easier to discard it.

Our democratic system may seem easy to overlook, but I can promise you that the expansion of voting rights and democratic values is a very recent and fragile thing. When I was born, it had not yet been a generation since white women garnered the right to vote. But since then, we have seen incredible strides made. From the passage of the Voting Rights Act to the  26th Amendment which established that everyone aged 18 or older could vote, democracy has expanded at a rapid and remarkable pace. However, this amount of progress was neither inevitable nor guaranteed. It was fought for by activists, legislators, and everyday Americans who wanted to see a change and pressured their government to meet the moment. Now, we must follow their example.

Over the last decade, we have seen a revival in attacks on voting rights across the country, especially targeting Black and brown communities. MAGA extremists have purposely advanced these attacks to sow distrust in democracy and create an environment in which January 6th could occur, and could even happen again.

Unfortunately, many of their efforts have succeeded with disastrous effects.  Since the Supreme Court gutted much of the Voting Rights Act, states have imposed extreme laws designed to curb the ability of people to vote, echoing many of the Jim Crow laws that so many people fought to overturn. States like North Carolina and my home state of Texas passed voter ID laws to restrict the ballots of low-income and minority voters. We also saw an increase in extreme, partisan gerrymandering, undermining the power of voters to choose their representatives. And, to top it all off, MAGA Republicans in Congress began to sow doubt in the validity of our elections, refusing to concede when they lost and stoking lies to incite their followers to violence. To some degree, these changes have taken place because we have taken democracy for granted, and those seeking power have taken advantage.

This moment in our history is unique because, for the first time in my life, American democracy is openly being questioned and is under attack. However, we the people have the power to change the trajectory of our country’s future. Extremists only win if we let them. Much like those that have come before us, we need to stand together, call on our legislators to  respect and certify the next election, and advocate for our democracy in whatever way we can.  We are a country of, by, and for the people, and if we stick together, we can preserve our democracy for generations to come.

Don Foote is a Navy veteran living in Texas, and a Courage for America council member. He is a graduate of the University of Texas, an experienced businessperson and manager, and an active advocate on citizens’ issues towards fostering equality and promoting an inclusive democracy across the United States.