Beyond | The Trauma of Our Polarized Politics and The Threat of Democracy Backsliding
We live in historic times, a phrase I am so tired of hearing. At this point, I would love to live in some un-historic times, maybe some boring times, even insignificant times – that would be great. However, that is not an option, and instead, we find ourselves in some of the most polarizing times since the Civil War, with the threat of democracy backsliding on the horizon. Pew Research Center notes that our Congress has become more polarized over the past five decades, with an asymmetric skew on the Republican side. Everywhere you turn, whether it be television, social media, or in-person events, our polarized politics are everywhere, and we can no longer ignore it, nor should we.
As I sit here writing this, just a few days before the Midterm elections, I am worried. Worried about the future of this democracy that I love so much and that we all take for granted. According to The Washington Post, “a majority of Republican nominees on the ballot this November for the House, Senate and key statewide offices — 291 in all — have denied or questioned the outcome of the last presidential election.” For some context, they examined 569 candidacies, which is about 51%. When we have one party where the majority does not even believe in the legitimacy of the elections, we have a seriously deleterious problem: a problem none of us can escape and a problem we will all be forced to face in time. You see, these are not the types of problems that go away; these are the problems that fester and pollute our body politic until it becomes destabilized at its foundations, the electoral system.
Since the loss of his election in 2020, former President Donald Trump and his GOP allies have been working diligently to undermine the public trust in our electoral system. Not to mention, all of these allegations have been completely unfounded, lacking a basis of fact, but alas, the fact is no longer a concern to a large part of the American electorate. We live in a post-truth world where the only concern among people is whose “team” wins, a time of truly tribal politics where compromise is dead and partisanship reins. We are no longer looking for solutions but looking for problems. We have become so tied up in the politics of culture wars and grievance that we have taken our eye off the prize, our democracy. Apparently, we know democracy is in trouble; we just do not care to make it a priority.
This assault on our electoral system is not just in the candidates running, it is from the grassroots up. Steve Bannon has been actuating a plan to take over our electoral system from the ground up with the help of GOP partisans and election deniers. This is not conjecture, this is not a what-if. This is happening all over the country! Sadly, this is just the beginning. By taking grassroots action to take control of local elections’ operations while running candidates who promise to ignore the will of the voters when they feel like it, they are setting the stage to take control of national and state-level power by fraud and by force. Let us not forget the day of Jan. 6, 2021, a day that feels so far away right now. As someone who lives less than five miles from the US Capitol, let me assure you I have not forgotten, and we must not forget. Jan. 6 was a prologue, not the end of the story – a preview of the dangerous path we are on as a nation.
So, in a midterm environment where the winds of change are undeniably boosting Republicans, and a majority of those Republicans believe in election denialism (not to mention promoting conspiracy theories), we all need to be concerned. This election is about more than what kind of tax plan you prefer, your opinions on government spending, or even your opinions on hot-button social issues; it is about whether or not we want to continue to have the ability to take our democracy for granted. Policy debates aside, we should all be able to agree that our democracy is paramount to the success of everyone in this country. History shows us that when you lose democracy, it is not easy to get it back. Jon Meacham, a noted American historian, said, “American democracy is at maximum danger.” Always listen to history, it has a funny way of repeating itself. I am going to say something that many may find unpopular, but I find to be rather striking and true: America looks very similar to Germany in the 1930s, and we all know how that story went.
The fight for our democracy is here. It is no longer a thought project or a case study. It has found us, and we are in the critical period of determinacy. Political violence has become the way people turn to solve their problems. Recently, in a horrific attack at the home of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, her husband, Paul Pelosi, was viciously beaten with a hammer by a politically motivated attacker who threatened to hold him hostage until the Speaker got home. When he entered the residence, he was screaming similar calls to those on Jan. 6: “Where’s Nancy!?!?!” Has it really gotten this far? Have we really allowed our politics to devolve so much that violently attacking our political opponents is the answer? While I cannot answer these questions, I can say we are officially “off the rails,” as it is said.
It is much easier to tune out and ignore what is happening around us than to accept the very real and scary reality that our democracy may be slipping between our fingers. However, nothing in life that is worth it is easy, and neither is trying to keep this democracy – which people have fought and died for – alive. Never did I think we would live in a time when we have people purposely undermining our election system, spreading false and conspiratorial information while part of the mainstream body politic all at the same time. This reminds me of Benjamin Franklin’s solemn words: “A Republic, if you can keep it.”
These times are historic, and the choices we make today, with our votes, will have lasting effects on the country we live in. I empathize with those of you who are tired, want to get back to “normal,” and want it all to go away. But until we decide to get involved and stop taking this wonderful thing we have, democracy, for granted, we will never find the reprieve we all seek. While there are cacophonous clouds of catastrophe on the horizon, we have the power to weather the storm – but do we have the power to push ourselves through it? A question we will all have an answer to soon enough.