Former acting Attorney General Sally Yates, who was fired by President Donald Trump after ordering federal attorneys not to defend an “unlawful” travel ban imposed on several majority-Muslim nations, implored her fellow Americans to embrace our nation’s “core values” of freedom and justice or run the risk of letting a want to be tyrant potentially ruin what makes America unique.
In a powerful op-ed for USA Today, Yates delivered a scathing rebuke of, without mentioning any names, those elected leaders who have corrupted the core values of our democracy and who seek to undermine the rule of law.
“Over the course of our nation’s history, we have faced inflection points — times when we had to decide who we are as a country and what we stand for. Now is such a time. Beyond policy disagreements and partisan gamesmanship, there is something much more fundamental hanging in the balance. Will we remain faithful to our country’s core values?” Yates wrote in an op-ed Tuesday.
“Our founding documents set forth the values that make us who we are, or at least who we aspire to be. I say aspire to be because we haven’t always lived up to our founding ideals — even at the time of our founding. When the Declaration of Independence proclaimed that all men are created equal, hundreds of thousands of African Americans were being enslaved by their fellow Americans.”
She asked Americans to draw inspiration from the Preamble to our Constitution:
“’We the people of the United States’ (we are a democratic republic, not a dictatorship),” Yates wrote. “‘In order to form a more perfect union’ (we are a work in progress dedicated to a noble pursuit) ‘establish justice’ (we revere justice as the cornerstone of our democracy) ‘insure domestic tranquility’ (we prize unity and peace, not divisiveness and discord), ‘provide for the common defense’ (we should never give any foreign adversary reason to question our solidarity) ‘promote the general welfare’ (we care about one another; compassion and decency matter) ‘and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity’ (we have a responsibility to protect not just our own generation, but future ones as well).”
She also called attention to the Bill of Rights, which can erode and slip away if we are not vigilant:
“Our Bill of Rights is similarly succinct in guaranteeing individual liberties — rights that we have come to take for granted but without vigilance can erode and slip away, such as freedom of speech (our right to protest and be heard); freedom of religion (the essential separation between how one worships and the power of the state); and freedom of the press (a democratic institution essential to informing the public and holding our leaders accountable),” she continued.
Yates warned of leaders who believe they are above the rule of law.
“The promise that the law applies equally to everyone, that no person is above it, and that all are entitled to its protection,” she wrote. “This concept of equal protection recognizes that our country’s strength comes from honoring, not weaponizing, the diversity that springs from being a nation of Native Americans and immigrants of different races, religions and nationalities.”
“This wall of separation is what ensures the public can have confidence that the criminal process is not being used as a sword to go after one’s political enemies or as a shield to protect those in power. It’s what separates us from an autocracy,” she wrote.
Finally, Yates warned against political arguments that are steeped in “emotion and fear through polarizing rhetoric and fabrications.”
“There is such a thing as objective truth,” she explained. “We can debate policies and issues, and we should. But those debates must be based on common facts rather than raw appeals to emotion and fear through polarizing rhetoric and fabrications.”
“Not only is there such a thing as objective truth, failing to tell the truth matters. We can’t control whether our public servants lie to us. But we can control whether we hold them accountable for those lies or whether, in either a state of exhaustion or to protect our own political objectives, we look the other way and normalize an indifference to truth.”
“We are not living in ordinary times, and it is not enough for us to admire our nation’s core values from afar. Our country’s history is littered with individuals and factions who have tried to exploit our imperfections, but it is more powerfully marked by those whose vigilance toward a more perfect union has prevailed.”
She closed with a powerful call to action:
“So stand up. Speak out. Our country needs all of us to raise our collective voices in support of our democratic ideals and institutions. That is what we stand for. That is who we are. And with a shared commitment to our founding principles, that is who we will remain,” she finished.