The Times We Live In
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History says we should not give up on democracy

Election Day 2022 was a good day for democracy. The worst of those who want to deny Americans the ability to choose our own leaders lost. There was little or no violence and no credible calls of fraud. From my perspective, the American people voted pretty emphatically that they were not going to tolerate a party that tried to fix all the elections so that only Republicans can win.

President Joe Biden spoke to the nation yesterday and noted that the Democrats had the best midterm elections for governors since 1986 and lost fewer House seats than they have in any Democratic president’s first midterm in 40 years. Once again, I suspect, that remarkable performance against the historical standard will go underreported. Pundits and political reporters had a really bad day on Tuesday, but I have lost what faith I had in their ability at introspection. They still get paid when they are wrong, and they will continue to write out of their biases, facts be damned.*

There is still a great deal of work to be done. Florida, for example, is a mess, and Marco Rubio’s 17%-point victory over the very competent Representative Val Demings stands as exhibit number one. Rubio is not a serious person. I suspect there is a combination of a flood of new MAGA residents, voting restrictions and intimidations, DeSantis denying the Justice Department access to the polling stations, a flawed state Democratic party, and more at play.

There is also work to be done around illegal gerrymandering. After years of the state legislature drawing maps that favored Republicans, the people of Michigan rose up to amend the state constitution, requiring an independent, nonpartisan panel of 13 citizens to redraw the maps. Guess what? Political competitiveness broke out all over! Michigan Republicans challenged the new map, but yesterday the Supreme Court dismissed their appeal. However, not every state is as fortunate. Four states controlled by Republicans — who control 10% of the seats in the House of Representatives — have simply refused to follow the orders of their state supreme courts to change blatantly partisan maps. In Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Ohio, heavily gerrymandered maps stayed in place despite state court decisions that they were unconstitutional. Work to change the maps, and demand consequences when lawmakers openly flout the law, is needed.

History tells us there is always work to be done.

As the elections neared, I read of two periods in our past in which democracy hung in the balance. Neither one is as well-known as the Joe McCarthy fiasco of the 1950s. In both cases, people chose to fight. That fight took years and sometimes decades, but in the end, America emerged a stronger democracy.

The first was the momentous election of 1884, recalled by historian Heather Cox Richardson.

In that year the Republican Party had become so extremist that many of its members, disparagingly called “Mugwumps” by party loyalists, jumped ship to vote for a reformer, Democrat Grover Cleveland. It was a chaotic and consequential election, for it showed those Republicans who stayed with the party that they must moderate their stances or become a permanent minority.

Younger Republicans like Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts, Robert La Follette of Wisconsin, and Theodore Roosevelt of New York took notice and turned their party back toward its roots, protecting the rights of individuals rather than of corporations. By the end of the century, they had captured the imagination of the nation. Once in office, they ushered in the Progressive Era.

But on Election Day, 1884, all anyone could know was that there were currents and crosscurrents. What would come from any of them would not be clear for another decade or more. In that tense election the main point was that there was voting at all, for the right to choose our lawmakers was what made America, America.

The second period includes the years between the nation’s entry into World War I and the onset of the Roaring Twenties, as captured by Mother Jones co-founder Adam Hochschild.

This was “the Trumpiest time in our history.” It was defined by extraordinary repression, persecution, racist violence, and surveillance.

In Lincoln, Nebraska, a mafia boss named Tom Dennison orchestrated attacks on white women by white men in blackface to unseat a progressive mayor. Black World War I veterans were beaten and lynched. So were German Americans and those suspected of being Communists. Newspapers and magazines were censored and shut down by the postmaster general. Zealous military officials built a surveillance network to spy on resisters in the Philippines, then deployed them against dissenting Americans.

If you were on the receiving end of that vengeful repression, it would have been easy to conclude that the fight for democracy and human rights was lost forever.

But within a few short years, women would gain the right to vote. Within decades segregation would become illegal. That device in your pocket now permits you to spread information without worrying about the postmaster general.

Every generation has its challenges, because the oligarchs and their politicians don’t want democracy. They want to choose their own voters rather than the other way around. They have deep pockets and they never stop in their stealth bid to reverse-engineer all of America, at both the state and the national levels, back to the political economy and oligarchic governance of midcentury Virginia, minus the segregation.

But as women and young people showed on Tuesday, once people have rights, they don’t like for some oligarch, judge, or politician to try and rip them away.

The fight continues.

More to come…

DJB

*Markos Moulitsas, the founder of The Daily Kos, summed up the media approach pretty well.

When my daughter was a toddler, she’d drop a glass of water or juice and say “Uh oh, the glass fell!” The passive voice implying she had no responsibility in the accident. That’s what the @nytimes is doing here, pretending that they weren’t a major driver of The Narrative.

Image of the polling station from Pixabay.

This entry was posted in: The Times We Live In

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I am David J. Brown (hence the DJB) and I originally created this personal blog more than ten years ago as a way to capture photos and memories from a family vacation. After the trip was over I simply continued writing. Over the years the blog has changed to have a more definite focus aligned with my interest in places that matter, reading well, roots music, and more. My professional background is as a national nonprofit leader with a four-decade record of growing and strengthening organizations at local, state, and national levels. This work has been driven by my passion for connecting people in thriving, sustainable, and vibrant communities.

5 Comments

  1. robynryle says

    I think DeSantis got a big bump from the hurricane effect, which no one is talking about. But Floridians I know were impressed with how he handled the aftermath of Hurricane Ian. Regardless of whether it’s true or not, it’s what people believe, and I think it’s why he captured some previously Democratic areas.

    And, yes, the pundits should give up on making any predictions about elections at this point.

    • Robyn, I heard the same thing, which is ironic given that he was using federal hurricane aid and he regularly argues against federal involvement.

      I’ve decided I’m just going to stop reading pundits who make predictions. It will help my blood pressure.

      DJB

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