In a letter to the editor, Jersey City resident Ricardo Luis Rojas states his case as to why in New Jersey, insurrectionists aren’t the only threat to democracy.
A year ago, right-wing insurrectionists overran the Capitol seeking to undermine and overthrow democracy. If you’re a regular New York Times or Washington Post reader, I wouldn’t blame you for believing democratic backsliding is a solely right-wing illness.
After all, Democrats want to pass a new voting rights act and to condemn the insurrectionists. But here in New Jersey, destroying democratic norms is a bipartisan collaboration.
The coronation of Robert Menendez, Jr. is the conservative Democratic establishment’s latest display of craven disregard and disdain for democracy: a person with no qualifications for federal office magically locked up the support of every establishment politician in the state and was given the Line before even announcing their candidacy, before even releasing the bullet points of their platform.
Yet, Menendez Jr. is only the most extreme example. New Jersey is an aristocracy.
Here nepotism is an integral part of the political establishment from the governor’s mansion down to the lowest county committee seat.
How can New Jersey’s Democrats condemn Trump’s sins when they actively enable not just the Menendezes, but also the DeGises, Vainieris, Norcrosses, Paynes, and more?
Unlike Menendez Jr., I am the son of a Cuban political refugee who fled Castro’s persecution. Abuelo Luis y Abuela Gladys didn’t have the luxury of evading the revolution years before Castro paraded through Havana.
While my father languished in jail for his political dissidence, Menendez Sr. was double-dipping as mayor of Union City and the 33rd district’s state senator.
My father came to Union City to earn an honest living for his family, to give me a better life than was possible for him. When he came to this country with only a change of clothes and a toothbrush, he believed he was stepping onto democratic soil.
To our great disappointment, New Jersey’s political culture looks like Cuba’s: where power passes between blood relations, where the children of politicians live in extravagance while enriching themselves off the misery of the working class, where the theatre of democracy is used to legitimize corruption.
Papi went to prison for daring to utter “Abajo con Fidel! Abajo con el comunismo! (Down with Fidel! Down with communism!),” but my cry for justice is “Down with nepotism! Down with aristocracy!”
We Latin people know nepotism’s stench because it’s a prevailing part of politics in our countries of origin. We saw first-hand how nepotism erodes trust in democratic institutions. We believed things were different here.
We were told in the United States there was respect for democracy and institutions. Each shady backroom stunt is a nail in the coffin of our democracy because nepotism is a betrayal of the promise of America.
The conservative Democratic establishment will try to mask the smell of their corruption with an aesthetic of democracy, progress, or social justice, but their words ring hollow next to their actions.
Nonetheless, in the face of this evil I gain strength from my faith. According to Christian tradition, Jesus Christ’s promise is salvation: that the rich will be sent away empty and the meek will inherit the earth.
In His time, like ours, wealthy, well-connected families used their power to exploit the poor; they were the moneychangers who defiled God’s house.
Today’s moneychangers defile the people’s house, and we should follow Christ’s example to turn over their tables and drive out the corrupt families who exploit us.
As we confront the modern aristocracy’s drive to slow and co-opt society’s progress to their own selfish ends, we progressives will never give up the fight for workers, the poor, the sick, the houseless, the immigrant, the marginalized, and the downtrodden.
I have faith that the moral arc of history bends towards justice for “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.”
Ricardo Luis Rojas Estrada
Ricardo is a progressive organizer from Union City currently residing in Jersey City.