Happy New Year! But there’s some bad news
Here are a few more shorebird pictures from our wonderful wedding celebration at Atlantic Beach, NC. Clark, our new daughter-in-law, exceeded all expectations! I also enjoyed spending time on the beach with the birds, and interpreting these images. As noted below, I, and probably you, can definitely use more of the beauty and peace of nature.
As we start a brand new year, it’s hard not to feel overwhelmed with dire problems: the resurgent pandemic, mass shootings, fires, tornadoes, droughts, melting ice caps, and the list goes on. There’s a lot to deal with. As part of my meditation practice, I try to make some time every day for conscious gratitude and compassion, including self-compassion.
Given all our other problems, it’s obviously not a great time to discuss the possible end of American democracy. We’re already exhausted. But we need to buck up and find our second wind. Our system has been much weakened and may fail entirely. If we want to save it, we have to act soon.
Besides worry overload, another reason I hesitate to raise the subject is that there is so much wrong with American-style democracy. Its most valuable ideals – free elections, equality before the law, free speech and other civil liberties – have never been fully realized. Meanwhile, this system has given us extreme inequality, embedded racism, misogyny, homophobia, and xenophobia.
We have the world’s largest rate of incarceration, and an endless war on drugs that keeps prisons full and sustains worldwide criminal organizations. Our military brings death and chaos to remote areas of the globe, while maintaining hair-trigger readiness to end civilization in a nuclear war. For many, there is not adequate food, housing, transportation, or medical care. For non-human beings, it’s even worse. In short, our political processes have not produced what we would reasonably expect of a wealthy, enlightened nation, and they’ve done a lot that we cannot be proud of.
But for all our shortcomings and failures, American democracy still provides one thing that is extremely valuable: the possibility of change. We have a tradition of fair elections and peaceful transitions of power. Our votes almost always get counted and determine the winner. Exceptions are vanishingly rare.
If the governing party loses, it peacefully concedes and allows the business of government to continue. The new government might improve things, and at any rate, it is generally agreed that it is entitled to take a shot. This has been true for a long time, and it’s hard to conceive that it could be otherwise. But it easily could.
Now, more than a year after the last presidential election, a substantial majority of Republicans have been persuaded that the election was stolen, and that Joe Biden is not the legitimate president. They reject the overwhelming weight of the authorities – court decisions, officials, scholars, and news media – that contradict that view.
Republican leaders at the national and state level, with very few exceptions, continue to support the big lie that the true winner in 2020 was Donald Trump, and to refuse to support or cooperate with investigations into the illegal attempts to nullify the victory of President Biden.
Republican legislators in some 19 states have already passed laws to make future Democratic victories less likely by making it more difficult for some groups to vote. Several Republican-dominated states are getting rid of their non-partisan election officials who refused to assist in overturning the last presidential election and installing supporters of the big lie.
In other words, many states are putting in place a system to stack the deck against Democrats and then, if that doesn’t work, nullify election results. In addition, dozens of states have enacted new laws criminalizing various acts of protests, including ones that would likely occur after a stolen election. Meanwhile, the courts have been stacked with Republican judges.
While all this is happening, repeating the big lie prepares the psychological ground. If enough people are convinced, wrongly, that election fraud is common, they may also be convinced that their own cheating isn’t so bad. Cynicism, apathy, and fear could be paralyzing, or at least keep many people from protesting.
These forces could in short order leave us with an authoritarian, neo-fascist system. That is, a system with all of our current problems, minus the machinery to allow for political change to address those problems, and minus long-standing institutional restraints on repressive violence and corruption.
I know this is no fun to think about, but fortunately, it’s not hard to understand intellectually. The challenge is to fix it. As to Republicans who understand the big lie and disapprove of it, they need to show some backbone, and tell the truth. Democrats who understand it need to get to work educating others on what’s happening. And they need to get involved, volunteering, making phone calls, watching the polls, and so forth – all the no-fun jobs that are part of free and fair elections.
Although I think saving our democracy will be tough, our ancestors have won long-odds fights for rights before. In the last century, women fought hard to win the right to vote, and African Americans won the right to be treated as full citizens. The forces that have brought us to this point – fear, hatred, ignorance, greed – are nothing new, and we already have the tools to counter them: kindness, compassion, and love. But hope alone won’t get the job done. We need to get to work.