When I immigrated to the US, over thirty years ago, I thought that the differences between Republicans and Democrats were mild. Policy differences existed, for sure, and elections clearly mattered even back then. But the ‘red versus blue’ contrast paled in comparison with the very wide spectrum of parties (and social agendas) of electoral relevance in the European country I was coming from.
Differences between Democrats and Republicans have since widened dramatically. To the point where concepts such as bipartisanship and consensus building became quaint—and all but disappeared from our practice of governance. Not even peaceful alternation of power is a given any more, as one of the parties has seemingly lost respect for the democratic principles and the rule of law governing our elections.
That some Americans might incorrectly think that I am referring to the Democrats, is a measure of the craziness of our times. Facts are no longer indisputable—they are increasingly bendable to political beliefs. Unjustifiable election denialism, inherently anti-democratic and grown out of the desperation of a few, turned into core political strategy for too many Republicans, including a majority of those now running for elected office.
To their credit, a few elected Republicans (Liz Cheney comes to mind, as a standout example) are courageously swimming against the tide. They are calling out their own party, putting country and democracy above politics. But they are increasingly a powerless minority within their party, with many of them not running for re-election or being voted out in the primaries. That leaves the Republican party a hollow shell, and (I would argue) an unacceptable electoral choice for anyone espoused to democratic principles.
This November, we will have one more of a remarkable string of local, state, and federal election cycles that have been and will continue to be deeply transformative of our nation. I wish we were talking about economy, public health, climate change, inclusion, or investment priorities. But the real choice is no longer about policies, although, of course, they matter. The choice is fundamentally between democracy and authoritarianism. It is between us remaining or not a country of free choice, fair laws and moral compass—all imperfect, but continuously striving for improvement.
Humans are flawed, individually and in our social aggregates. Hence, no country is likely to ever reach perfection. But seeking perfection matters—and the US has been arguably successful as a political experiment precisely because it is inherently based on the notion of sustained improvement by and for the People. Democracy and freedom of expression are engrained in our country’s DNA, as is the drive to use them to ‘do better.’ Or so I (still) think.
The risk in November is that we decisively move instead towards elected authoritarianism, by enough of us (unwittingly?) voting to restrict our own future choices. Because that is, sadly, what voting Republican means these days—as Cheney and other principled Republicans and former Republicans keep warning us. Their warnings are a recognition and urgent reaction to their party’s embrace of a ‘power at all costs’ perspective, exacerbated by a cult-like following of a former president.
This said, we (still) live in democracy. Which means that, for now, authoritarianism can be elected only if we vote for it. And that is why, much like the emperors of ancient Rome, the Republican Party must still use ‘panem et circenses’ strategies (meaning, in today’s terms, pseudo economic incentives and mind-numbing political folklore tied to—among others—election denialism) to obscure what is at stake. Should we not realize that democracy itself is on the ballot, they have a chance. After all, mid-terms are usually not favorable to the party in power, and the global context is not gentle.
In essence, the solution to November’s anti-democratic threat is simple: Let’s deny Republicans our vote. Let’s set aside conservative versus liberal preferences, and vote for the one party that (imperfect as it is) we can still trust to ensure that future elections remain free and democratic. And that is the Democratic Party.
We should not expect elected Democrats to be perfect. They are not, neither are their policies. But they have shown that they can govern, even when it means forging internal consensus among quite different viewpoints (from representative Ocasio-Cortez to senator Manchin). And we can expect them to continue to contribute democratically to the type of dialogue and decision making that is required to address today’s societal challenges. Furthermore, we can expect them to step aside, should they be defeated at future ballot boxes.
I do realize that many of us are too entrenched in our views to be easily swayed. Still, here is my plea (as an independent voter) to those who are hesitating on what to do this November: Please vote, and vote for democracy!
We do not want to wake up from these elections to Republican controlled local, state and federal (aside the White House) administrations, subservient to an authoritarian former president and keen on power preservation at all costs. History tells us that, if we let that happen, sooner rather than later our views (and our vote) may no longer matter.
— Antonio Baptista
Thanks for this thoughtful post. I agree. Our votes are precious. They can stand up to autocracy if enough voters let go of their antidemocratic leanings – not something easy to recognize or act on. But always a hope.
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Thank you, Antonio. I agree.
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