Evaluate political climate parallels in America and Poland
Protesters fill the streets, demanding reform. Women call for the right to choose. Government officials criticize the press for its supposedly biased reporting on policies and government proceedings. The fate of the constitutional court is uncertain, with judicial appointments being disputed for months. The country’s government is completely controlled by a single right-wing party that has a majority in both legislative houses and heads the executive branch.
Across the Atlantic, 160,000 people watched the inauguration of the 45th president of the United States. The next day, half a million people participated in the Women’s March on Washington with the message that “women’s rights are human rights.” The new White House Press Secretary accused the press of “false reporting” of the inauguration crowd size. A seat on the Supreme Court has been growing colder since Feb. 13, 2016. The Republican-controlled Senate and House are having an easy time passing laws, starting with a bill that paves the way for repealing the Affordable Care Act.
Back across the Atlantic, Poland is struggling to maintain a transparent government. On Dec. 16, 2016, thousands of Poles gathered in protest in front of Parliament in Warsaw as a result of the ruling party’s restriction on reporters’ access to government operations, criticizing the new rules, according to a Dec. 16, 2016 AP article. News organizations could only have two correspondents and were now banned from the assembly room, forced to watch the proceedings from a balcony one floor up. And even these reporters had to have a “documented history of political reporting,” while others who did not fit this category were left to watch on a television screen in a different room. According to a Dec. 15, 2016 article on Gazeta.pl, an online news portal, reporters were only allowed to talk to politicians in a specifically designated room, which meant politicians who did not want to be interviewed could simply avoid said room if they chose.
As a result, people filled the streets chanting “Free media!” and the Polish Press Club organized its own protest, designating a media blackout on politics coverage, calling it “#dzienbezpolityków,” or “#daywithoutpoliticians” on social media. Jarosław Włodarczyk, President of the Press Club, described the movement as “white, empty spaces in the newspapers. That will be the world in January, unless the changes [regarding reporters] are retracted,” according to a Dec. 16, 2016 Gazeta.pl article. Party lawmakers wanted “to protect themselves from uncomfortable questions by journalists,” according to Monika Olejnik from TVN, a Polish news outlet, and the media disapproved of this restriction on the freedom of the press. The restrictions were retracted a few days later, but lawmakers promised to revisit the extent of journalists’ access to Parliament.
The lawmakers in question are members of PiS, or Law and Justice Party. Ever since they were voted into power in October 2015, they have been enjoying full control of the government; even the Opposition, comprised of seven different parties, trail behind PiS in the Sejm, or lower house of the Polish Parliament, by eight seats, according to an Oct. 25, 2015 New York Times article. PiS wants to restrict all abortions, except for those when the mother’s life is in danger, even though 74 percent of voters do not agree with the proposed bill, according to a Sept. 23, 2016 article in the Guardian.
The president of Poland, Andrzej Duda, has also faced criticism: He swore in five judges to the Constitutional Tribunal in the middle of the night, an act that inspired catchy names such as “overnight court” or “midnight judges.” The previous Sejm had also appointed five judges, but the president ignored these appointments, saying they were unconstitutional, so he worked with the new Sejm to appoint new ones. This sparked protests in Warsaw, and the Constitutional Tribunal declared three out of the previous appointees valid and accepted only two of the new appointees. The new Sejm now passed a law that would limit the Tribunal’s power. However, according to a March 12, 2016 BBC article, this law was declared unconstitutional by said Tribunal, a judgment that the Sejm and president refuse to accept, sparking another round of protests.
This is what can happen if one party has complete control of the government: There are no checks and balances because one side completely outweighs the other; decisions are completely one-sided. The Opposition in Poland has no say because, ultimately, it will always be outvoted. The current situation completely undermines democracy in Poland, allowing for laws that benefit a select few, not laws that benefit all.
This is what can happen in America; it is starting to happen already. So what’s to stop the situation from spiraling out of control? It seems as though every month, a state proposes new restrictions on abortion, making it increasingly difficult to get one. The Supreme Court vacancy is also troublesome: Many cases the Court views result in a tie, leaving the verdict to the Appeals Court. This is precisely the reason there are supposed to be nine justices: so that a tiebreaker is possible, so as not to sentence every case to a standstill.
For Poland, the answer to its problems is to protest; the people come together in support of a cause, and their cries are answered, at least some of the time. Their combined efforts with the media lifted the restrictions on reporters in Parliament, a successful defense of democracy and transparency. While Americans protest, as well, such large-scale protests are not as common and even those that are, such as the Women’s March, only show American unity but do not result in change. The Trump administration does not seem to be doing anything regarding the protesters’ demands and concerns, as no action has been made regarding the demands; instead, it is focused on how the “dishonest media” and the “failing New York Times” report on the protests. Trump is skilled at undermining the media and has made a large portion of the country believe that the media is reporting false news on purpose in order to take him down. Only 32 percent of Americans have a “great deal” or “fair amount” of trust in the media, according to a Sept. 14, 2016 Gallop poll, an issue that Trump can easily take advantage of. This makes it hard for the media to defend itself; its accurate coverage of politics is seen as biased. Instead of people protesting the unfair portrayal of the media by Trump and his administration, they join him.
Americans should take note of Poland: While it is a country that is relatively on the periphery of international politics, it is still full of parallels to the situation Americans face today. While it has not fixed all of its problems, Poland has shown that its citizens are not afraid to push back against unfair policies and laws, particularly regarding the press, something U.S. citizens should pay attention to. While people are constantly outraged at Trump’s actions, there have only been a few major protests against him, which have not yet solved anything. Unless people constantly protest, write to their representatives and try to enact true change — not simply engage in criticism online — democracy will not prevail; instead, one ideology will have full control and not everyone will be fairly represented. Is that what Americans want? Do they want to distrust the media, live under a government that does not listen to all of its citizens and follow laws that did not meet the full standards of judicial review? There is a point at which the populace cannot do anything more except wait for the next elections, but what if waiting were not necessary, and change could be enacted now? Take a look at Poland, and learn from a country you would not normally pay attention to.