For now, the choice is ours

See Disclaimer.

In democracy, voters choose. It is that simple. And that complicated.

These mid-terms, Americans have two seemingly straightforward choices to make: Do we want to remain a fully functioning democracy? Do we trust this government to lead us out of a crisis that has both global and national roots?

The first question is flabbergasting. Of course we do want to remain a democracy, don’t we? Don’t we? After all, we introduced this form of government to the world, and championed it for over a quarter millennium, did we not? Would we now rather devolve into some form of authoritarianism, the very thing we rejected to become an independent nation?

In my view, voting Republican poses a serious risk for democracy. That is because the GOP (from grass roots to leadership, with few exceptions and no apparent remorse) either endorses or tolerates election denialism, voter suppression, hate speech, and the spread of misinformation—all in a consistent, sustained basis. By contrast, voting Democrat involves some distastefulness (e.g., Democrats boosting up certain extreme GOP primary candidates, whom they believe will be weak in the general election) but no risk for democracy.

The choice should be truly trivial: Vote Democrat to preserve democracy, Republican to invite authoritarianism and an alternate reality.

Granted, democracy is terribly messy and imperfect. In fact, democracy can be aptly described as ‘the worst form of government, except for all others,’ as Winston Churchill did. For example, ignorance, prejudice, discrimination and misinformation can easily bias a perfectly democratic election, leading to outcomes seemingly contrary to the true interests of voters, country and humanity. And democratic governments can be sub-optimal (at least in the short term), as they  involve checks and balances that might delay or water down key social and economic decisions.

Having lived under both fascism and aspiring communism (equally authoritarian and repressive, even if hugely different in philosophy), I unambiguously still see a messy democracy as a far better option—frustrations and all. The fact that perfectly good people think differently is troubling, but understandable.

These midterms, many of those people will vote Republican, not because that is the right choice, but because it is a choice. And the only other meaningful choice is Democrats, the party in power—and thus, in their minds, those responsible for high inflation and other social and economic stresses that they may dislike. True to midterm tradition voters may penalize the government they elected just two years ago.

This back-and-forth swinging between parties is neither new nor is it typically a threat to democracy. In fact, it is inherently democratic. Why would it thus be counterproductive (often), and truly problematic (this time)?

The electoral swing is counterproductive when voters, for example, don’t trust the government long enough for their economic policies to have time to produce the intended results. Especially in increasingly complex national and global contexts, time is needed for fundamentals to work their way up the economy. Changing governments (and thus economic philosophies) too soon and too often weakens rather than strengthens us. It is similar (in the loosest of the senses) to an investor who buys and sells stocks too fast in response to a fluctuating market, ending up losing money in the process.

But, again, democracies are not perfect, Americans are not particularly patient, and our democracy has held well over time—even when our economy (or basic social choices) have suffered by frequent “buyers’ remorse” of voters at midterms.

This time, though, is different for two important reasons. First, the danger to our democracy is real, if election denialists and voter suppressors are elected to key positions (at local, state and federal levels) directly or indirectly in charge of elections. That would, effectively, limit our free choice in future elections. I was a teenager, thus unable to vote but already somewhat aware of politics, when elections in my original country were a proforma affair, won by the authoritarian party in power by numbers consistently way above 90%. Would we want anything like that here?

The second reason is not as fundamental, but is deeply practical. Given the distinctively complex global context, with economic and geopolitical crisis aplenty, distrusting our government now will bring an added sense of US instability and unreliability. This will negatively impact our global leadership position, and our ability to keep some level of moderating influence on the global (and thus national) economy.

Internal divisions and a roller coast of external positions of our government would indeed kill the progress that the Biden Administration has painstakingly achieved over the past two years in re-establishing the world’s trust on us. We would suffer, as would the world at large. Those thinking of inflation as the reason to vote Republican, would soon (yet too late) find the current balance between inflation, strength of economy, and low unemployment being altered for the worse—here, and likely worldwide.

I fully realize that Americans holding extreme positions are unlikely to change. A fundamentally better informed and more educated population, and a return to good citizenry principles as societal drivers, would be needed to reduce fringe thinking—and is far from eminent.

My hope, though, is that the majority of Americans remains open-minded enough that they will consider the obvious. We have an imperfect but functioning government, that has been far better at governing than at self-promoting. We should give them reasonable time to take us out of a crisis that they did not create—and that they are fighting hard (if not always perfectly) to control. If they fail, we will always have 2024 to shift course, through free elections. Far more that we can be sure, if we give state and Congressional control to Republicans.

For now, at least, the choice is still ours.

– Antonio Baptista

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