Four hundred years of democracy in the Western hemisphere

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Tiberiu Dianu has published several books and a host of articles in law, politics, and post-communist societies. He currently lives and works in Washington, DC, and can be followed on Medium. https://medium.com/@tdianu

By Tiberiu Dianu

Is it worth recalling how we got here? July 30, 2019 marked the 400th anniversary of the first representative legislative assembly in the Western hemisphere at Jamestown, Virginia, the first permanent English colony in North America. This first general assembly took place at a church in Jamestown and laid the foundation for American representative government.

It didn’t get much press coverage, but the events of the day were part of a yearlong commemoration meant to honour the state’s colonial history. Special events open to the public were planned around Jamestown. Lawmakers and other guests gathered at historic Jamestown to commemorate the meeting of the burgesses. The Democratic governor of Virginia, Ralph Northam, gave an address at an early morning event. President Donald Trump attended a second event that was private but televised.

In his uplifted speech, the president talked about “the triumph that we are here to celebrate today,” the colonists’ self-reliance, and the self-government in Virginia that “gave us the country we love, the United States of America.”

Trump offered a nod to the beginning of slavery in the US by noting the arrival of the slaves in 1619 at Point Comfort, Virginia. He used the speech to make an optimistic case for America’s future, saying, “America always gets the job done.” “That is why, after 400 years of glorious American democracy, we have returned here to this place to declare to all the world that the United States of America and the great Commonwealth of Virginia are just getting started,” Trump said.

It wasn’t without the left showing its usual colors. During the ceremony, a Virginia Democratic and State legislator, Ibraheem Samirah, and Palestinian-American Muslim, interrupted president Trump: “You can’t send us back, Virginia is our home.” Shortly after that, he brandished a sign reading “go back to your corrupted home,” “deport hate” and “reunite my family.” The man was escorted away by security as people in the crowd repeatedly chanted, “Trump.”

The president anticipated this by tweeting before the event [early in the morning]: “Heading to Jamestown, Virginia. Word is the Democrats will make it as uncomfortable as possible, but that’s ok because today is not about them!”

It’s intriguing how the anti-racist protester didn’t brandish his little sign during Ralph Northam’s early-morning speech, in order to remind the governor about his yearbook photos showing that he was either a guy in blackface or a guy in a Ku Klux Klan hood – he still hasn’t told us; or how the same family-man protester didn’t remind the same governor about his statements supporting infanticide. I am sure he would have been more effective.

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