To survive, democracy must have support from every American who cherishes it
Just last week, a group of historians warned President Joe Biden that today’s threats to democracy are similar to the pre-Civil War era and the homegrown sympathy for fascism before World War II.
At the height of Chicago’s Democratic Machine, lore had it you could sometimes see four feet behind the curtain of a voting machine — two belong to a voter and two belonging to a Machine cog making sure the citizen voted the right way.
A system like that made a mockery of democracy, and Chicago suffered for it.
Now, anti-democratic forces all around the country are determined to take a page from places and eras where democracy existed in name only. They want to plunge America into a nightmare political system in which the power of individual votes is eroded and popular reforms can’t reliably be enacted through the ballot box.
It’s time for all Americans to stand up for one-person, one vote, while there is still time.
Just last week, a group of historians warned President Joe Biden that today’s threats to democracy are similar to that of the pre-Civil War era, when the nation was in turmoil over slavery, and before World War II, when homegrown sympathy for fascism was rising. As in those earlier times, an alarming number of those on the right now hope to get their anti-democratic way by controlling the electoral machinery or by force, rather than prevailing in the marketplace of ideas through an election.
The research organization V-Dem tells us democracy is in retreat around the world. For the first time in 20 years, the number of non-democratic countries outnumbers democratic nations. It’s a time when America should be a beacon, a showcase for democracy.
Instead, ever-more-efficient gerrymandering; a decline of independent institutions; political campaigns fueled by dark money — itself caused by soaring income inequality and support for overturning fair elections — are threatening America’s democratic experiment.
In competitively contested elections, candidates would be obligated to stand up for America’s historic values to win over voters. But even after the Jan. 6 insurrection, eight U.S. senators and 139 representatives took a stand against the peaceful transition of power by voting to sustain one or both objections to Biden’s victory. Other fellow Republicans continue to cheer those votes.
A system where they can’t lose
Friday’s news that the FBI recovered 11 sets of classified documents in the search of former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home might have brought loud condemnations of Trump, even from his loyalists, if they knew they had to appeal to the majority of Americans, who cherish democratic ideals, rather than a fevered base inclined toward authoritarianism.
Four of the sets were marked at the highest security classification. Serious damage could result if those documents got into the wrong hands — possibly putting lives at risk — and it’s unclear so far what Trump was planning to do with the documents. Yet many Trump loyalists remained silent, or made excuses for him, despite the alarming revelations, including the fact that Trump is under investigation for possibly violating the Espionage Act.
Enthusiasm for counter-majoritarianism continues creeping in. Many Republicans don’t want to regroup after an election loss and come up with ideas that resonate with more voters. Instead, they want a system where they can’t lose. Democracy depends on citizens being willing to peacefully accept losses in one election in the hopes they can prevail in the next, but many Republicans no longer want to accept losing.
Election workers have been intimidated and threatened. Ohio Republicans have drawn voting maps that virtually assure them of victory even if they get many fewer votes. Florida’s new lopsided map does so as well. Besides Ohio, Alabama, Georgia and Louisiana have voting maps that judges say are not fair — but those states are using those maps anyway.
Also of concern to voting rights activists: In four states, election deniers have won nominations to posts that would give them control over election machinery. Two sheriff’s organizations have said they will investigate elections, casting a chilling effect.
Yes, democracy in the United States has a checkered past. Women couldn’t vote until 1920. It took the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to unlock the ballot box for African Americans.
But a healthy democracy is our nation’s only hope. The Earth is warming. Gun violence is proliferating. Reproductive rights are targeted in state after state. Health care, education and other important issues are pressing. A shackled democracy cannot fix those problems.
The only answer is to turn out to vote, in every election, with our ideals at the forefront and in large enough numbers to make a difference. Americans should — must — seize that chance.
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