How will we explain to the Founding Fathers that we let their democracy die?

I never really thought that I would witness the fall of American democracy in my lifetime. Now, I think about it a lot.

Our president threatened to withhold military aid from Ukraine unless the Ukrainian president helped Trump in the 2020 election. Ukraine is at war with Russia.

The Republican Party has been purged of all but its most extreme elements. Senate Republicans won’t impeach regardless of how criminal Trump’s actions are. If you protect a criminal, what does that make you?

Maybe you like Trump because you don’t like liberals. But you’re less enthusiastic about imprisoning children and separating families seeking asylum. You own the internment camps.

You support Trump because you’re against abortion, but are a little squeamish with the constant abuse of power and daily obstruction of justice. That you ultimately concluded you’re OK with the tradeoff only demonstrates the depths of depravity to which the anti-choice movement has sunk.

And behind it all lurks the shadow man, Russian president Vladimir Putin, to whom Trump has sworn allegiance.

Our democracy is dying, people. When the Republic expels its last breathe, how are we to apologize to the long-dead Founding Fathers for being the ones who blew it?

How do you say you’re sorry to Fredrick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony, Bayard Rustin, Harvey Milk, Rep John Lewis and every other human-rights activist who ever fought to make our founding principals include more than just white men?

Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther, King, Jr. were modern day Founding Fathers, prophets who walked among mortals. They were murdered by evil men whose wickedness lives on in our ignorance and complacency.

Aristotle warned that the price of ignorance in the public square is to be ruled by evil men.

Did you know the spirits of soldiers walk among us? Bear with me. Maybe you knew a marine who died in Afghanistan. An uncle who died on the beach in Normandy. Or you saw a soldier’s name on The Wall in Washington, D.C., and you still can’t forget it. Perhaps the spirit beside you is your son who died in Iraq.

While I believe they’ve crossed over to glory, a part of them remains behind.

I stood over your freshly-covered grave in a small roadside cemetery in Ohio, staring at the combat helmet and boots guarding your tombstone. God, you were only a few years older than me. It was December 1969. I felt so sad that you died so young and so close to Christmas. That seemed doubly unfair.

Why? What did you die for? To have a draft dodger, Pvt. Bone Spurs, rob U.S. Army SP4 James Harry Woolard— rob all of the fallen soldiers—of the ultimate sacrifice, the last full measure?

I struggled for years to find purpose in the deaths of those who died in a war where the motive for fighting doesn’t make much sense now. I finally realized they died so somebody like me who never served might pick up the flag.

When I saw injustice, it was James and I who spoke against it. It’s James who’s helping me to write this opinion column now.

But my vision of him is fading. “Couldn’t they have at least written a letter to the editor?” he says. “Would it have been so hard for them to email Congress? Did my death really mean nothing?”

Hell, no. It’s so that a boy from Manchester, Ohio, killed fifty years ago in Vietnam could scream at the top of my, his, and our lungs, that Trump and Putin are fascists and the Republican Party is the Party of Trump and Putin and we had better stop them. Now.

James, the oath you swore to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, did not die. Neither did you.

Henry Riekert, a former community columnist, mows pastures and repairs fences on his Serenity Hill Farm in Jessamine County.