I believe that for all the reasons I cite below, and more, we will likely lose what little is left of our democracy and find ourselves, as early as 2024, living in an Orwellian autocracy, or worse. And while this prospect is much discussed and written about, I see no evidence that, as of now, pro-democracy forces in America are preparing to organize a new coalition of forces that is sufficiently broad enough and powerful enough to prevent this slide into the political abyss. I firmly believe that unless we begin the process of creating such a coalition, a coalition for American democracy, it will be too late to turn the political tide in a new direction.
Before addressing how the kind of mass-movement oriented pro-democracy coalition that I think is essential could be organized and operate if we are to save what is left of our democracy, let me first cite some of the evidence for my dire prediction. But note: I will not in this piece, in any detail, address the decisive role that our capitalist system plays in creating the reasons for my alarm.
First, the recent Axios-Ipsos Two Americas Index public opinion poll of September 1-2, found that
- 33% of Americans would prefer a strong, unelected leader to a weak elected one;
- 35% believe Presidents should be able to remove judges whose decisions go against the “national interest”;
- 38% believe the government should side with the majority over ethnic/religious minority rights; and,
- roughly 33% believe the federal government should be able to prosecute members of the media who make offensive or unpatriotic statements.
And the numbers vary little between registered Democrats and registered Republicans. A September 16th NPR/Ipsos poll found that 64% of Americans believe U.S. democracy is “in crisis and at risk of failing,” yet an Article in September’s The Atlantic, cites a recent study that shows that less than 4% of voters will turn against a candidate whose policies they prefer, or who takes undemocratic actions, or makes undemocratic speeches.
Then there is the evidence provided by the growing nativism, and the tribalism it has spawned. The American people are more divided today than they’ve been since the Civil War. Red states are at political war with blue states. And isn’t it interesting, and depressing, that the same racism that played a central role in our Civil War is doing the same with respect to today’s ugly divide?
Nationalism and tribalism in the United States have advanced to such a degree that political and societal differences once settled in peaceful disputes, or at the ballot box, are now the excuse for violent confrontations. It's a tribalism between those who understand and welcome the demographic changes flowing from the effects of globalization, and those who see these demographic changes as an existential assault on their so-called “traditional way of life.” Hence, the “replacement theory’s” emergence in the public debate; the fact that millions have been drawn to the ignorant insanity of “Q” with its warnings of Democratic Party pedophilia and Jewish aliens; the steady and well-organized growth of the already huge Christian nationalist, “ReAwaken America” movement, of which Gen. Flynn is a major proponent and star; the majority of Republican Party voters who still believe Trump, not Biden, was elected president again in 2020; and the millions of those who are supportive of the January 6th insurrection who now believe it is appropriate to use violence to preserve their “traditional way of life” in America.
All of this, and more represents the coming together of an extremely large and well-funded radical right movement with complete disdain for any form of governance that allows the on-going immigration of non-white, non-Christians into America, or lets laws be passed that challenge its belief in the subservient place of women in society, or that benefit the rights of the poor and people of color, most particularly their voting rights.
Yes, Christian white privilege, racism and sexism, the fear of immigrants of color and Jews and Muslims, have created a tribalism, a political and cultural division in America, that has reached levels not seen since the days of our Civil War. As a result, many historians and political thinkers are warning that we may soon find ourselves in a new civil war, such is the depth of out and out hatred between the sides in this tribal war. As Max Fisher states in the article, “Why the U.S. Is Being Ominously Compared to Hungry and Turkey” (New York Times, September 12, 2022), “The United States fits pretty cleanly into what is now a well-established global pattern of democratic backsliding. First, society polarizes, often over a backlash to demographic change, to strengthening political power by racial, ethnic or religious minorities, and generally amid rising social distrust.” And he adds, “very few democracies have begun to slide and then reversed course.”
Already the world ranking of democracies finds that of the United States sinking lower, now rating us only 26th in the list of world’s democracies; and, listing us as only a “partial democracy.” This should not surprise us, given that we were not born as a truly democratic nation in the first place, and given how the impact of big money in elections, gerrymandering, the reduction of days to vote and places to vote, new voting ID requirements, and the influence of giant media companies, have combined to now make America an ever more limited democracy.
Further, ever since the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision throwing out significant portions of the Voting Rights Act, election laws in a goodly number of states have quite openly set the stage for a stolen 2024 presidential election. They are aided by a number of Supreme Court rulings that show support for a bizarre new right-wing legal theory, the “independent State legislature theory.” This theory argues that state legislatures have unfettered authority over federal elections! And the new right-wing advocacy organization, Marble Freedom Trust, has just received $1.6 billion to advance this and other anti-democratic theories. Already Supreme Court Justices Alito, Thomas, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and to a lesser extent Roberts, have evidenced support for this irrational “states’ rights” theory.
Make no mistake: our already limited democracy is hanging on by a thread. For I fully believe that given the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Voting Rights Act case, given the number of states that have already passed undemocratic election laws, and elected Trumpian candidates to the state offices controlling elections and the certification of presidential electors, we now face the very real likelihood that no matter which presidential candidate actually wins the popular vote in the 2024 presidential election, it is the Republican Party candidate that will be declared the winner, thus marking the official end of our flawed democracy.
If the many historians and political thinkers are right in their dire warnings, and I do believe they are, then, as always, the obvious question is the age-old one, “what is to be done?” I have given my answer to that question in the very first paragraph of this article: nothing short of the formation of a broad-based, pro-democracy, mass-action coalition, uniting our various existing progressive coalitions/movements, can save the day. And “yes,” I am fully aware of just hard it will be to put such a coalition together and shape it so as to employ the right strategies and tactics. But in considering the matter of the difficulty in putting such a coalition together, I would urge the leaders and members of current progressive coalitions to contemplate how poorly their causes will fare if America becomes governed by anti-progressive authoritarianism.
Surely, we have no time to lose. I urge the leaders of today’s various progressive movements to start the process of coming together now; coming together in unity because this is the only way we can organize a pro-democracy movement coalition powerful enough to defeat the authoritarian forces on the ascendancy in America; the only hope we have of saving our democracy, limited as it is.
One of this new coalition’s first tasks, and as difficult as it appears to be, is to find a way to end, or at least weaken, the tribalism that has left our country so divided. We’ve got to stop thinking of everyone who sharply disagrees with us as stupid, or immoral racists, and as the “enemy.” For truth be told, in some rather critical ways the “other side” is, like us, simply the victims of an economic system that has left so many of us in America struggling to get all of our human needs met. They are people who have been purposely mis-educated, mis-led and frightened into adopting an ugly nationalism, and who are now scared to death about their place in modern America.
To end this tribalism, we’ve got to talk to those on the other side of this tribal war. Reach out to them, listen to them, sympathize with those of their fears that are legitimate, while pointing out that what is really threatening their living standards is not the “other,” but the economic system we live under; a system that only works when there are winners and losers. In short, to help them understand that it is in the nature of the corporate capitalists and billionaires running this country to profit from keeping the people divided and distrustful of the immigrant or person of color who just moved in down the block; to explain that the only “other” they need to fear is the corporate oligarchy that now rules America. And why it is in their true interests to join us as we fight to save democracy.
Yes, first we’ve got to listen to each other…and then having listened, talk through our differences. For if we would do this, I am convinced that we would find there is more common ground between ourselves than we currently suspect. If we will do this, I believe we will find that “the other side” has some grievances and worries that are justified, even if they are blaming the wrong reasons and the wrong people for those grievances. Even if we can do no more than marginally reduce today’s tribalism in this way, it will be a boon to our pro-democracy movement.
And here are a few other things we should do. Our new coalition must promote the idea of doing what the right-wing has done for decades now and get involved in local school boards so as to have an impact on what America’s children are learning and reading in school. Today, America’s public schools are failing to adequately teach an honest history of America, or why democracy is essential to a free people, and how it should operate. Last year, at least 50 different right-wing groups pushed campaigns to ban certain books in schools, according to a report released by PEN America on September 19th. PEN said that across the country, restrictions occurred in 138 school districts, which included 5,000 individual schools and enrolled nearly 4 million students.
Only if progressives get far more involved in the curriculum of public education, by securing their place on local school boards, can we hope to have a school system that honestly and fully produces adults who understand what good government is, who understand the changing nature of America, who understand today’s problems have nothing to do with the race, nationality or religious beliefs of their brother and sister Americans. For as Amartya Sen has argued, good primary schools contribute as much to democracy as strong political parties do.
Other measures should be promoted and fought for as well, such as getting more and more states to adopt ranked-choice-voting and non-partisan primary elections. In the few places where this has been instituted, the results have produced far fewer extreme winners of elections. And city and county and state elections should be taken more seriously than they are currently, since so much of what is decided by such governing entities impact us greatly. Yes, the fight for abortion rights, against racism, for fair union organizing laws, for economic justice, and an end to America’s imperial militarism, must be understood as a fight to save our democracy at all levels of government. In these battles this new coalition must be as dogged and determined as are our neo-fascist foes. (Of course, in many cases the only way to win these rights will require the election of non-capitalist third parties, or by leaving the Democratic Party no choice but to vote the enlightened way. How to build such a party, such an electoral coalition, I must leave for another day.)
It is for these and other reasons, that I am urging the creation of a popular, broad-based coalition to undertake the kinds of actions I’ve suggested in this talk, and a hell-of-a-lot more. A pro-democracy movement coalition that is broad enough and powerful enough to regularly take to the streets in protest with our demands. A movement coalition so powerful that it cannot, if we stick to it until our demands are met, be defeated. A movement coalition like that of the labor, civil rights, anti-war and women’s rights movement coalitions of the past. It must be prepared to bring hundreds of thousands into the streets on behalf of the coalition’s demands, or whenever an unfair and undemocratic effort is underway to further disenfranchise millions of our sisters and brothers. Happily, the majority of America’s youth and millions of adults are with us, and in many separate ways are already leading the fight back effort.
Well, am I right? Is America already far, far down the road that ends in authoritarianism, or worse? And am I right about what I believe is the only way to prevent this journey into the abyss? I’m now old enough to freely admit that I have been wrong many times before in my life and might be wrong again. So, I would like to know what you, the readers think. Perhaps you agree with me about the danger of losing our already shrunken, skeletal, democracy, but disagree on how best to prevent such a loss. To let me know what you think, send your comments to the LA Progressive.
What is absolutely essential, as we undertake this historic imperative, is to remember this: that we’ve overcome great historic evils and divisions in our country in the past. The evil of slavery. The evil that tore apart America during the Civil War. The evil of children sent to work in factories. The rights of women. The anti-communist “witch hunts.” Earlier Jim Crow laws. The Vietnam War. All of our past victories over such evils demonstrate that history itself has been on our side when we’ve fought our battles with a strong people-powered movement.
And so, remembering that so much of history is on our side, let us vow today to start now to build a united, mass-movement coalition of pro-democratic forces in America. If we do not do this, then we will have failed to answer this new call of history; a call of history facing our country and the entire world today; a call to fight like hell to stop America’s ever accelerating devolution into authoritarianism. For I truly believe that if we acknowledge just how dangerous this moment is, remember how we won great victories over long odds in the past, and get about the necessary business of organizing the only kind of movement that can bring us victory, our day will come!