After the most recent January 6th Committee hearing, I was jolted into the realization of how close we were to losing our democracy. On that fateful day, the rioting insurrectionists were acting like zombies, following Trump’s mesmerizing call-to-arms. I viewed the terrible rampage against Congressional leaders, staff, and police as well as the defacement of our precious Capitol building. It all seemed unbelievable to me, much like a frightening horror movie. However, ex-President Trump’s scheme to take over as the autocratic leader of our nation became a stunningly real threat.

The half-crazed rioters were certainly not thinking clearly about what their lives under autocratic control would be. Perhaps they would have had second thoughts if they had considered what their devastation of our Capitol could cause, and what the loss of our democracy could mean for them. I suspect most of the rioters have never lived or visited autocratic, government-controlled nations. I am no authority on these types of regimes, but I have experienced life in Cuba under the leadership of dictators Batista and Castro. The atmosphere, rules, and regulations were different under both leaders, but I always felt “Big Brother” was watching. If someone happened to be nearby and overheard you make a derogatory remark against one of the leaders or the government, the listener was sure to report it to a government agent. He would receive his reward, and you would be arrested.

We Americans do not appreciate our freedoms. We take for granted that no one forces us to think a certain way, read only what is allowed, work only for the government, with wages set by the regime. Health care, groceries, clothing, beverages, home and personal supplies are all allotted by the government. Radio, television, and news are similarly regulated. Additionally, utilities, telephone, electricity, gas, and so forth are all rationed. I remember when traveling there, how strange it was to enter my dark room at night and have to ask the hotel desk/apartment manager to turn on my lights.

I had similar experiences when I visited Russia. I was there for only a short stay, and what I viewed was limited. What I did sense, however, was that the Russian government seemed much the same as Cuba under Batista’s iron-fisted rule. Under Batista’s Cuba and in Russia great wealth and extreme poverty existed and were readily observable. By contrast, in Castro’s Cuba, no one seemed to have riches, and everyone was quite poor. Yet no one lived in straw houses or at starvation levels as was the case under Batista’s rule.

One of the myths that circulates in our country, particularly among minority communities, is that racism and bigotry are much less prevalent in autocratic nations. This is not true! What I observed is that at least here, in the United States, we have laws against outrageous discrimination. It is unconstitutional. Our problem is enforcement of these important laws. No such laws exist in dictatorships.

Visiting and living in foreign countries left me with a sense of extreme gratitude for our democracy. The Jan. 6 bi-partisan committee probe has demonstrated a democratic way to investigate actions that tested our system of government.

It is democracy in action. Our country thwarted a terrible challenge, and I am thankful for this committee’s work toward bolstering and safeguarding our democracy.

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