“. . . . There is another, less-known solution in our Constitution to protect the country from Mr. Trump: Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, which bars from public office anyone who, “having previously taken an oath” to support the Constitution, “engaged in insurrection or rebellion” or gave “aid or comfort” to America’s enemies.” . . . .
I always enjoy Thanksgiving, but I’m particularly going to savor this year’s in light of the midterm elections. They surfaced something beautiful and decent and vitally important in the soul of the nation. It was a readiness to defend the core of our democracy — our ability to peacefully and legitimately transfer power — when it was under imminent threat by Donald Trump and his imitators.
Had we lost our commitment to the solemn obligation that one party smoothly hands off power to another, we’d be totally lost as a country today. But instead, democracy was reaffirmed. Enough Americans — principled Republicans, Democrats and independents — sorted through their ballots and rejected almost all of the high-profile Trumpist election deniers for major state and federal offices.
In “using the tools of democracy to protect democracy,” as Vox put it, they reconnected the country with something deep in our heritage — that losers concede gracefully and move on, and winners win gracefully and govern. In celebration of that tradition, I offer these five readings for your Thanksgiving table:
Sept. 19, 1796, excerpts from President George Washington’s Farewell Address, explaining that he would not seek a third term and the most important lessons he had learned:
“The unity of government which constitutes you one people is also now dear to you. It is justly so; for it is a main pillar in the edifice of your real independence, the support of your tranquillity at home, your peace abroad, of your safety, of your prosperity, of that very liberty which you so highly prize. … You should properly estimate the immense value of your national Union to your collective and individual happiness. … With such powerful and obvious motives to union affecting all parts of our country … there will always be reason to distrust the patriotism of those who in any quarter may endeavor to weaken its bands. …
“The basis of our political systems is the right of the people to make and to alter their constitutions of government. But the constitution which at any time exists, until changed by an explicit and authentic act of the whole people, is sacredly obligatory upon all. The very idea of the power and the right of the people to establish government presupposes the duty of every individual to obey the established government.”
“If you aren’t feeling a sense of dread on the eve of the midterm elections, you haven’t been paying attention.
We can talk about the conventional stakes of these elections — their implications for economic policy, major social programs, environmental policy, civil liberties and reproductive rights. And it’s not wrong to have these discussions: Life will go on whatever happens on the political scene, and government policies will continue to have a big impact on people’s lives.
But I, at least, always feel at least a bit guilty when writing about inflation or the fate of Medicare. Yes, these are my specialties. Focusing on them, however, feels a bit like denial, or at least evasion, when the fundamental stakes right now are so existential.
Ten or 20 years ago, those of us who warned that the Republican Party was becoming increasingly extremist and anti-democracy were often dismissed as alarmists. But the alarmists have been vindicated every step of the way, from the selling of the Iraq war on false pretenses to the Jan. 6 insurrection.
Indeed, these days it’s almost conventional wisdom that the G.O.P. will, if it can, turn America into something like Viktor Orban’s Hungary: a democracy on paper, but an ethnonationalist, authoritarian one-party state in practice. After all, U.S. conservatives have made no secret about viewing Hungary as a role model; they have feted Orban and featured him at their conferences.
At this point, however, I believe that even this conventional wisdom is wrong. If America descends into one-party rule, it will be much worse, much uglier, than what we see in today’s Hungary.
Before I get there, a word about the role of conventional policy issues in these elections.
If Democrats lose one or both houses of Congress, there will be a loud chorus of recriminations, much of it asserting that they should have focused on kitchen table issues and not talked at all about threats to democracy.
I don’t claim any expertise here, but I would note that an incumbent president’s party almost always loses seats in the midterms. The only exception to that rule this century was in 2002, when George W. Bush was able to deflect attention from a jobless recovery by posing as America’s defender against terrorism. That record suggests, if anything, that Democrats should have talked even more about issues beyond economics.
I’d also say that pretending that this was an ordinary election season, where only economic policy was at stake, would have been fundamentally dishonest.
Finally, even voters who are more worried about paychecks and living costs than about democracy should nonetheless be very concerned about the G.O.P.’s rejection of democratic norms.
For one thing, Republicans have been open about their plan to use the threat of economic chaos to extract concessions they couldn’t win through the normal legislative process.
Also, while I understand the instinct of voters to choose a different driver if they don’t like where the economy is going, they should understand that this time, voting Republican doesn’t just mean giving someone else a chance at the wheel; it may be a big step toward handing the G.O.P. permanent control, with no chance for voters to revisit that decision if they don’t like the results.
Which brings me to the question of what a one-party America would look like.
As I said, it’s now almost conventional wisdom that Republicans are trying to turn us into Hungary. Indeed, Hungary provides a case study in how democracies can die in the 21st century.
But what strikes me, reading about Orban’s rule, is that while his regime is deeply repressive, the repression is relatively subtle. It is, as one perceptive article put it, “soft fascism,” which makes dissidents powerless via its control of the economy and the news media without beating them up or putting them in jail.
Do you think a MAGA regime, with or without Donald Trump, would be equally subtle? Listen to the speeches at any Trump rally. They’re full of vindictiveness, of promises to imprison and punish anyone — including technocrats like Anthony Fauci — the movement dislikes.
And much of the American right is sympathetic to, or at least unwilling to condemn, violence against its opponents. The Republican reaction to the attack on Paul Pelosi by a MAGA-spouting intruder was telling: Many in the party didn’t even pretend to be horrified. Instead, they peddled ugly conspiracy theories. And the rest of the party didn’t ostracize or penalize the purveyors of vile falsehoods.
In short, if MAGA wins, we’ll probably find ourselves wishing its rule was as tolerant, relatively benign and relatively nonviolent as Orban’s.
Now, this catastrophe doesn’t have to happen. Even if Republicans win big in the midterms, it won’t be the end for democracy, although it will be a big blow. And nothing in politics, not even a full descent into authoritarianism, is permanent.
On the other hand, even if we get a reprieve this week, the fact remains that democracy is in deep danger from the authoritarian right. America as we know it is not yet lost, but it’s on the edge.” -30-
“NASHVILLE — There I was, snug in my own bed in the middle of the night, turning to sleep on my side, when wham! the room slid sideways. Then it took off, spinning and spinning as though a sadistic carnival barker had flipped a switch and pushed the speed to max.
Reader, I will spare you the details except to say that I have lately learned how delicate an instrument is the human ear, how many ways there are to disrupt its functions. As when, say, a lump of wax detaches itself from the ear canal through an exactly wrong combination of angles and gravity, lodges itself in the eardrum, and transforms the human vestibular system into a Tilt-a-Whirl. For days I lay in bed, trying not to move my head and reciting to myself lines from “The Second Coming,” a poem by the Irish poet William Butler Yeats:
Turning and turning in the widening gyre/The falcon cannot hear the falconer.
At the otolaryngologist’s office, the source of my torture finally emerged after half an hour of patient manipulations by a doctor wielding tiny power tools. In the newly stationary room, I looked at it, amazed. How fragile the human body is that it can be thrown into chaos by something so small!
The same can be said for the body politic. Right-wing politicians and media outlets have turned American democracy upside down through nothing more than a lie. They put forth Supreme Court candidates who assure Congress that they respect legal precedent but who vote to overturn Roe v. Wade the instant they have a majority on the court. They endorse political candidates who openly state that they will accept only poll results leading to their own election.”
” “Anecdotal data point,” conservative commentator Tom Nichols tweeted this afternoon, “Had lunch with an old friend, a fellow former [Republican] (but not in politics or media or anything) and he said that things feel different after the Pelosi attack. Not sure why. I feel the same thing; not sure that it’ll matter, but have that same sense.”
Perhaps it is the echoes of lawyer Joseph Nye Welch, who in 1954 on television confronted Joseph McCarthy as the Wisconsin senator shredded people’s lives by accusing them of being communists: “Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness…. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?”
Perhaps it is the many observers pointing out that in a time when more than half the Republicans running for office have refused to acknowledge that Democratic President Joe Biden won the 2020 election, and when Republican legislatures are claiming the right to choose presidential electors without the input of voters, “American democracy is on the line.”
Or perhaps it is the sheer horror of Republican politicians joking about a brutal attack on the Speaker of the House, the second in line for the presidency, an attack that left her elderly husband with a fractured skull, but Nichols is right: something feels different.
Tonight, President Joe Biden gave a speech on democracy. He began by describing the attack on Paul Pelosi, then noting that the attacker’s demand, “Where’s Nancy?”, echoed the words “used by the mob when they stormed the United States Capitol on January the 6th, when they broke windows, kicked in the doors, brutally attacked law enforcement, roamed the corridors hunting for officials and erected gallows to hang the former vice president, Mike Pence.”
That enraged mob had been whipped into a frenzy by former president Trump’s repeating the Big Lie that the 2020 election had been stolen. That lie, Biden said, has “fueled the dangerous rise in political violence and voter intimidation over the past two years.”
Biden urged us to “confront those lies with the truth,” for “the very future of our nation depends on it.” “We must with one overwhelming unified voice speak as a country and say there’s no place, no place for voter intimidation or political violence in America. Whether it’s directed at Democrats or Republicans. No place, period. No place ever.”
“Democracy itself” is at stake in the upcoming election, Biden said. He appealed “to all Americans, regardless of party, to meet this moment of national and generational importance.” Nothing is guaranteed about democracy in America, he said, “Every generation has had to defend it, protect it, preserve it, choose it. For that’s what democracy is. It’s a choice, a decision of the people, by the people, and for the people.”
“We the people must decide whether we will have fair and free elections and every vote counts. We the people must decide whether we’re going to sustain a republic, where reality’s accepted, the law is obeyed, and your vote is truly sacred. We the people must decide whether the rule of law will prevail or whether we will allow the dark forces and thirst for power put ahead of the principles that have long guided us.”
Biden warned that the same forces that challenged the 2020 election, despite all the confirmations of its results, are setting out to question the legitimacy of the 2022 election. MAGA Republicans are “trying to succeed where they failed in 2020, to suppress the right of voters and subvert the electoral system itself. That means denying your right to vote and deciding whether your vote even counts.” They’ve encouraged violence and intimidation of voters and election workers, Biden said. “It’s damaging, it’s corrosive, and it’s destructive.”
“And I want to be very clear,” Biden said, “this is not about me, it’s about all of us. It’s about what makes America America. It’s about the durability of our democracy. For democracies are more than a form of government. They’re a way of being, a way of seeing the world, a way that defines who we are, what we believe, why we do what we do.”
Biden warned that “we can’t take democracy for granted any longer.”
“Democracy means the rule of the people, not the rule of monarchs or the moneyed, but the rule of the people. Autocracy is the opposite of democracy. It means the rule of one, one person, one interest, one ideology, one party…. [T]he lives of billions of people, from antiquity till now, have been shaped by the battle between these competing forces, between the aspirations of the many and the greed and power of the few, between the people’s right for self-determination and the self-seeking autocrat, between the dreams of a democracy and the appetites of an autocracy.”
“What we’re doing now is going to determine whether democracy will long endure and… whether the American system that prizes the individual bends toward justice and depends on the rule of law, whether that system will prevail. This is the struggle we’re now in, a struggle for democracy, a struggle for decency and dignity, a struggle for prosperity and progress, a struggle for the very soul of America itself.”
Biden listed the “fundamental values and beliefs that unite us as Americans.” First, “we believe the vote in America’s sacred, to be honored, not denied; respected, not dismissed; counted, not ignored. A vote is not a partisan tool, to be counted when it helps your candidates and tossed aside when it doesn’t.” “Second,” he said, “we…stand against political violence and voter intimidation.” “We don’t settle our differences…with a riot, a mob, or a bullet, or a hammer. We settle them peacefully at the ballot box.” Third, he said, “we believe in democracy…. History and common sense tell us that liberty, opportunity, and justice thrive in a democracy, not in an autocracy.”
“At our best,” the president said, “America is not a zero-sum society where for you to succeed, someone else has to fail. A promise in America is big enough…for everyone to succeed…. Individual dignity, individual worth, individual determination, that’s America, that’s democracy and that’s what we have to defend.”
He urged voters to judge the candidates by whether they would accept the legitimate will of the American people. “Will that person accept the outcome of the election, win or lose?” The answer to that question should be decisive. “Too many people have sacrificed too much for too many years for us to walk away from the American project and democracy…. It’s within our power, each and every one of us, to preserve our democracy.”
“You have the power, it’s your choice, it’s your decision, the fate of the nation, the fate of the soul of America lies where it always does, with the people, in your hands, in your heart, in your ballot.” ”
“Americans casting their ballots in tomorrow’s midterm elections might be voting in their 30th or 40th contest in four years. In the same amount of time, a German citizen might vote in six to eight races.
Put simply, the U.S. has an unusually high number of elections. The federal government alone holds elections every two years, compared with around every four or five years in other advanced democracies.
Why does this matter? Some experts argue that the saturation of elections has significant downsides — exhausting voters and hurting the quality of governance by pushing lawmakers toward more campaigning, fund-raising and short-term thinking.”
“On Apr. 8, 2020, in the chaotic early days of the coronavirus pandemic, Fox News host Laura Ingraham welcomed a little-known state senator onto her prime time show. With his unmistakable Minnesota accent and an aw-shucks bearing, Scott Jensen, a Republican, was the furthest thing from the typical fire-breathing cable news guest. But the message that he wanted to share was nothing short of explosive.
He told Ms. Ingraham that he believed doctors and hospitals might be manipulating the data about Covid-19. He took aim at new guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, warning that they could lead medical institutions to inflate their fees. “The idea that we are going to allow people to massage and sort of game the numbers is a real issue because we are going to undermine the trust” of the public, he said.”
“Polls swing this way and that way, but the larger story they tell is unmistakable. With the midterm elections, Americans are being offered a clear choice between continued and expanded liberal democracy, on the one hand, and fascism, on the other. And it’s more or less a dead heat.
It is time to speak an uncomfortable truth: The pro-democracy side is at risk not just because of potential electoral rigging, voter suppression and other forms of unfair play by the right, as real as those things are. In America (as in various other countries), the pro-democracy cause — a coalition of progressives, liberals, moderates, even decent Republicans who still believe in free elections and facts — is struggling to win the battle for hearts and minds.
The pro-democracy side can still very much prevail. But it needs to go beyond its present modus operandi, a mix of fatalism and despair and living in perpetual reaction to the right and policy wonkiness and praying for indictments. It needs to build a new and improved movement — feisty, galvanizing, magnanimous, rooted and expansionary — that can outcompete the fascists and seize the age.
I believe pro-democracy forces can do this because I spent the past few years reporting on people full of hope who show a way forward, organizers who refuse to give in to fatalism about their country or its citizens. These organizers are doing yeoman’s work changing minds and expanding support for true multiracial democracy, and they recognize what more of their allies on the left must: The fascists are doing as well as they are because they understand people as they are and cater to deep unmet needs, and any pro-democracy movement worth its salt needs to match them at that — but for good.”
“The war in Ukraine is not only a military event; it’s an intellectual event. The Ukrainians are winning not only because of the superiority of their troops. They are winning because they are fighting for a superior idea — an idea that inspires Ukrainians to fight so doggedly, an idea that inspires people across the West to stand behind Ukraine and back it to the hilt.
That idea is actually two ideas jammed together. The first is liberalism, which promotes democracy, individual dignity, a rule-based international order.
The second idea is nationalism. Volodymyr Zelensky is a nationalist. He is fighting not just for democracy but also for Ukraine — Ukrainian culture, Ukrainian land, the Ukrainian people and tongue. The symbol of this war is the Ukrainian flag, a nationalist symbol.
There are many people who assume that liberalism and nationalism are opposites. Liberalism, in their mind, is modern and progressive. It’s about freedom of choice, diversity and individual autonomy. Nationalism, meanwhile, is primordial, xenophobic, tribal, aggressive and exclusionary.
Modern countries, by this thinking, should try to tamp down nationalist passions and embrace the universal brotherhood of all humankind. As John Lennon famously sang, “Imagine there’s no countries/ It isn’t hard to do/ Nothing to kill or die for/ And no religion too.”
Those people are not all wrong. Nationalism has a lot of blood on its hands. But it has become clear that there are two kinds of nationalism: the illiberal nationalism of Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump, and the liberal nationalism of Zelensky. The former nationalism is backward-looking, xenophobic and authoritarian. The latter nationalism is forward-looking, inclusive and builds a society around the rule of law, not the personal power of the maximum leader. It’s become clear that if it is to survive, liberalism needs to rest on a bed of this kind of nationalism.
Nationalism provides people with a fervent sense of belonging. Countries don’t hold together because citizens make a cold assessment that it’s in their self-interest to do so. Countries are held together by shared loves for a particular way of life, a particular culture, a particular land. These loves have to be stirred in the heart before they can be analyzed by the brain.”
“Donald Trump’s so-called big lie is not big because of its brazen dishonesty or its widespread influence or its unyielding grip over the Republican Party. It is not even big because of its ambition — to delegitimize a presidency, disenfranchise millions of voters, clap back against reality. No, the lie that Donald Trump won the 2020 election has grown so powerful because it is yoked to an older deception, without which it could not survive: the idea that American politics is, in essence, a joke, and that it can be treated as such without consequence.
The big lie depends on the big joke. It was enabled by it. It was enhanced by it. It is sustained by it.
When politicians publicly defend positions they privately reject, they are telling the joke. When they give up on the challenge of governing the country for the rush of triggering the enemy, they are telling the joke. When they intone that they must address the very fears they have encouraged or manufactured among their constituents, they are telling the joke. When their off-the-record smirks signal that they don’t really mean what they just said or did, they are telling the joke. As the big lie spirals ever deeper into unreality, with the former president mixing election falsehoods with call-outs to violent, conspiratorial fantasies, the big joke has much to answer for.”
” . . . . The big lie is that the election was stolen; the big joke is that you can prolong that lie without consequence. The former is a quest for undeserved power; the latter is an evasion of well-deserved responsibility.” . . . .