• Nancy Dafoe

Mid-Terms are Tipping Point for America

November 8, election day, will be a tipping point for American democracy. We voters will be motivated by any one of many controversies that divide us: abortion, inflation, immigration, guns, climate, racism, blind party loyalty, election conspiracies, etc. But it is democracy itself that is truly at stake.


All the freedoms we take for granted - to speak, write, read, vote - are exactly what makes it possible for us to manage all those divisive and controversial differences peacefully, without the anarchy or civil wars we see in so many other countries. We may pound our desks but not each other. Though so many citizens in third world countries face bullets and torture as they fight for such rights, we are in real danger of blindly voting them away. Whether one makes the effort to vote or not, November 8th is about our confidence in this imperfect democracy to challenge abuse of power, to strive for equity. All these freedoms that enable us to fight exploitation of any kind are in jeopardy if we vote for candidates who have demonstrated contempt for the rule of law, voting rights, or an election process envied by the world for its fairness.


Democracy depends on the willingness of citizens and our elected representatives to dialogue and compromise. But trust in these basic principles has been so intentionally hobbled in recent years that we avoid political discussions with each other. One entire party in Congress doesn’t even pretend to compromise anymore. Too many just don’t know what’s true. Facts are fake and fakes are fact in this world of deliberately created misinformation. Into this poisoned political landscape have rushed candidates so eager to ride the coattails of a demagogue that they have given up any pretense of trying to bring constituents together or to attempt to tell the truth. They instead stoke political, racial, and gender divisions. Too many partisan incumbents now hypocritically condemn the integrity of the election process that was, apparently, fair enough when they themselves were elected. The irony of it all is this: like the increasingly catastrophic weather events that ravage both deniers and believers of climate change, this erosion of basic democratic principles is suffocating every one of us, no matter what we politically deny or believe. How can such a predictably self-destructive path to authoritarianism, proven by countless historic and current wars, be suddenly so close to becoming a reality in America?


The answer is simple. We aren’t that special. We can be just as gullible and easily manipulated as any population we’ve ever felt better than, and our downfall will be foolishly thinking it can’t happen here. We’ve watched an entire national political party devolve into a cult of personality. Who would have imagined that, like some third world country, we’d actually experience the spectacle of an American president refusing to leave office, encouraging a violent mob attack on Congress and our leaders, and threatening future violence with what amounts to a private army of white supremacists? Who would have imagined that millions of fellow Americans would support these anti-democratic tactics, perversely convinced that they are somehow patriotic? We are experiencing the ripple effects of the global crises created by the personal ambitions of one “elected” dictator sitting comfortably in Moscow. Americans once fought against the unimaginable death and destruction in 20th century Europe caused by another “elected” dictator once sitting comfortably in Berlin.


If, as some pundits predict, more conspiracy-touting candidates are elected to state and national offices, then we will have no one to blame but ourselves. But pundits and polls are often wrong. Maybe there really is an “exhausted majority”1 who, no matter which party they belong to, know what’s at stake, will show up on election day and vote to preserve these freedoms that allow us to debate our differences. In a post-WWII interview of German citizens, when asked how a single power-hungry man was able to turn a once democratic country into such a barbaric cause of incalculable death and destruction, one survivor responded: “It happened so slowly that one did not realize it was happening. One small compromise led to another, until it was too late or dangerous to say anything. For in the end, that was all that was required of us, that we do nothing.”2


Notes:

1. “Hidden Tribes: A Study of Americas Polarized Landscape”, More in Common, 2018.

2. “They thought they were free: The Germans 1933-45”, Milton Meyer, 1955.


John O'Neill,

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