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March 03, 2021 HUMAN RIGHTS

Frontline Democracy: We Are Our Own Heroes

by Claire L. Parins

The Trump presidency will most certainly go down in history as a very dark time in America, especially for its most vulnerable citizens. The past four years have also proved challenging for the attorneys, advocates, and judges who watched with disbelief and then horror as the Trump administration systematically dismantled the longstanding norms and laws designed to protect people and resources. At times, it was hard to stay hopeful. Many of us learned for the first time just how fragile democracies are and that such systems need constant tending.

To undo the destruction that the past four years brought, it is up to all of us to rebuild better, recognizing that democracy was always fragile.

To undo the destruction that the past four years brought, it is up to all of us to rebuild better, recognizing that democracy was always fragile.


President Joseph Robinette Biden Jr.’s election brought a sigh of relief from many. Had it not been for voters’ rights advocates, poll workers, and lawyers making sure that ballots were counted, leaders in Congress, journalists breaking stories, and ordinary citizens who descended upon the streets, donated money, held their government representatives accountable, and—in the end—voted, Trump may have been elected to a second term.

The list of heroes who helped rekindle hope is long. In early 2017, some of the first heroes emerged when the Trump administration instituted Executive Order 13769, dubbed the “Muslim Ban.” Advocates challenged this order and its successors almost immediately after they were issued. In the first three days, nearly 50 cases were filed in federal courts, and multiple temporary restraining orders barred enforcement of major parts of the various executive orders designed to discriminate. From the very first days of the Trump administration, the stage was set and many rose to fight the administration’s assault on health care, education, voting rights, the environment, LGBTQ rights, and our most vulnerable populations.

Voting rights advocate Stacey Abrams worked tirelessly alongside organizers, volunteers, and canvassers to promote change via the ballot box and registered thousands of disenfranchised Georgian voters to give them a voice. The Parkland, Florida, kids, students who survived the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, endured the trauma that would have left many others paralyzed, and inserted themselves into the nation’s volatile gun policy debate. Members of Congress and employees from within various administrative agencies fought to shed light on Trump’s abuses of power, obstruction of Congress, and incitement of insurrection. Republican officials, including local election administrators, and secretaries of state—many elected along partisan lines—held firm that the November 2020 election results were not corrupted by widespread cheating.

As this special issue outlines, there is much work to be done to start to repair what the Trump administration helped to destroy. For example, transparency in government and adherence to higher ethical standards are needed. The Department of Justice must be restored as a protector of this nation’s laws and not the president’s personal interests. We must fight again, tooth and nail, discrimination that hurts so many and learn to reform brutal policing practices. To undo the destruction that the past four years brought, it is up to all of us to rebuild better, recognizing that democracy was always fragile and that it takes the vigilance of advocates, politicians, journalists, judges, ordinary citizens, young and old, working together to actively maintain the principles we hope to uphold. We are our own heroes.

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Claire L. Parins

Director of Academic Publications, University of Chicago Law School

Claire L. Parins is the director of Academic Publications at the University of Chicago Law School and is on the Human Rights editorial board. She can be reached at [email protected].