A moment without historical precedent
By Chris Honoré
Like none before it, this midterm election will be extraordinarily consequential. My growing conviction is that our democracy is balanced on a precipice, and I’m at a loss as to understand why. This election should not be razor thin.
How is it possible, all things considered, that this authoritarian confidence man, this narcissistic, anti-democratic demagogue continues to wield inexplicable influence over the Republican party (growing increasingly authoritarian) and over millions of voters (aka his base)? How is it possible that his big lie has not been laughingly extinguished? And yet there it is.
I recently came across an insightful yet disconcerting essay in the New York Times written by columnist David Leonhardt. He points out that while America has been through deep political turmoil before — the Civil War, the Great Depression, World War II, the Cold War, the 1960s/’70s — our American democracy held firm, and the transitions of power from candidate to candidate, party to party, have taken place peacefully. But, he proffers, “the current period we find ourselves in is different, which makes this moment without historical precedent.”
The United States “finds itself in a situation wherein American Democracy is facing two distinct threats … which together represent,” Leonhardt explains, “the most serious challenge to our bedrock principles and governing ideals in decades.” I would agree.
The first threat is the resilient conviction inside the Republican Party that the 2020 election was fraudulent. This damaging belief, rejected by the courts and by countless investigations which found no widespread irregularities, resulted not only in the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, but has since caused 370 election deniers to run for office — candidates for the U.S. House and Senate, state offices for governor, Secretary of State, Attorney General — all of whom have expressed, at the very least, skepticism about the legitimacy of the Biden presidency.
It is anticipated that hundreds of those running will win (e.g., Arizona) in 2022, and many will be in a position to control the outcome of the 2024 election. Their mantra is now and will continue to be: If Republican candidates win, the election was legitimate; if they lose, then the result should be overturned.
The second threat to our democracy, proffered by Leonhardt, is the disconnection between the will of the people and government policy, a stunning example would be the overturning of Roe v. Wade/access to abortion by the Supreme Court. As well, senators, representing a majority of Americans, are often unable to pass bills because of the filibuster (60 votes required).
As a nation, while the causes are complex, we are also bearing witness to the acceptance among many voters to the rise of authoritarianism amid cultural fears (especially among whites). We find ourselves debating, often with a lack of civility, and increasingly framed by threats and vitriol, book banning, gun ownership, immigration on our southern border, a decline in religiosity, a populous growing increasingly diverse, and the rise of sexual identity changes made manifest by the acronym LGBTQA+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer and/or questioning). Plus, we are increasingly aware of the growing chasm between rural, small town America (mostly conservative) and metropolitan areas (mostly liberal). This contrast, Leonhardt writes, can feel “existential” and is often exacerbated by technology/social media.
President Biden recently stated, “Equality and democracy are under assault. We do ourselves no favor to pretend otherwise.” I would agree, and this coming midterm election will act as a barometer.
Email Ashland resident Chris Honoré at firstname.lastname@example.org.