In 1859 Charles Dickens wrote: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.” Hmm. Dickens was writing about the French Revolution but his words are relevant today.
The United States is teetering on the edge of revolution.
1.We’ve lost a governing consensus. Perhaps I was naive, but after the election — particularly after the January 6th insurrection — I expected the American people to put aside their political differences and come together to support law and order and the Biden Administration. This did not happen. While most Independents, and a few Republicans, joined Democrats in an effort to try to move our democracy forward, the bulk of Republicans hardened their resistance.
The consequence is that in Washington, and most of the United States, there’s not agreement on basic issues.
2.The United States has become two nations, featuring two very different realities. One reality — the reality I represent — believes that Joe Biden legitimately won the 2020 presidential election. We believe that the January 6th insurrection was deplorable and that it was probably planned by Donald Trump and his co-conspirators; we believe they all should be charged with crimes. (“Lock them up!”)
It’s not sufficient to say that those of us in “Biden land” — for lack of a better term — disagree with those in “Trump land.” We are immersed in a different reality. In our reality COVID-19 was a terrible public-health threat and the correct way to deal with this was to wear masks, socially distance, and be vaccinated. We believe that Blacks lives truly do matter and that serious steps must be taken to provide racial justice — and we do not equate the “Black Lives Matter” demonstrations, following the death of George Floyd, and the January 6th insurrection. (By the way, we do not trust the police to act properly in all circumstances.)
Suffice it to say, the denizens of Trump land have a different perspective. There are very few things we agree on.
3. Republicans no longer believe in Democracy. It’s one thing to believe in an alternate universe, where Donald Trump tells the truth, but a much more serious problem when that universe no longer believes in democracy. That’s what has happened; The majority of Republicans no longer believe in the basic tenets of democracy.
A recent 2020 Kansas University election study ( https://news.ku.edu/2018/04/17/study-prejudiced-attitudes-not-economic-concern-drove-most-voters-trump) observed: “[T]he  vote was a complex reality in which many factors played a part, above all, attitudes. And one of the attitudes that stood out statistically was a wish for a domineering leader who would ‘crush evil’ and ‘get rid of the rotten apples’ who disturb the status quo.” [Emphasis added] Trump played “the dictator card” and it captured the fancy of a majority of Republican voters.
Usually when we accuse a large group of people of being anti-democratic, we characterize them as fascists — or communists. Trump supporters aren’t coherent enough to be characterized as fascists, let alone communists. They are united by white grievance. They believe that “non-whites” are getting ahead at their expense.
4. Conceptually, we are seeing a reprise of the issues that produced the American Civil War: racism and state’s rights. Overt slavery is no longer an issue, but the life circumstances of most people-of-color remain unjust. The majority of Republicans don’t see it this way. They subscribe to “replacement theory:” the idea that Democrats are trying to replace white folks with “non-whites” — people of color, immigrants, Jews, and those with a non-traditional gender.
And, the dominant political sentiment of Trump World is to give states the power to make more decisions about civil rights and social programs. While Republicans want some Federal services, such as Social Security and a strong military, the predominant sentiment is to “blow up” Washington and return power to the states.
5. Hassles over slavery created the electoral college system and continue to plague us. As part of a compromise to reconcile “slave” states and “free” states, in 1787, the Constitution framers created the electoral college system. This specifies that the results of a presidential election are determined by state electors, not the popular vote. In 2000 and 2016, Republican candidates won the presidency even though they lost the popular vote.
Republicans recognize that — because of demographic trends — they may never again win the popular vote in a Presidential contest — therefore their strategy is to strengthen their hand in the electoral college. That’s why there are new Republican measures, in Republican-dominated states, to suppress voting and to make the legislature the ultimate determiner of who gets the electoral votes.
The 2024 Republican strategy is to win the presidency by taking advantage of the archaic electoral college system.
6. Expect violence. Writing in the New York Review of Books (https://www.nybooks.com/articles/2021/07/01/reality-rebellion/? ), Mark Danner observed “’January 6 was not an isolated event,’ FBI director Christopher Wray told Congress on March 2. ‘The problem of domestic terrorism has been metastasizing across the country for a long time now and it’s not going away anytime soon.’ After the Trump presidency, such domestic terrorism should be conceived not as a separable ‘problem’ but rather as the leading edge of a broader movement intended to delegitimize American institutions.”
Danner continued: “Trump is in the style of our moment: a man from nowhere, with no stake in the system, ignorant of history, incurious about our political habits and traditions, but happy to bash and to break old and precious things in exchange for a little attention.” [emphasis added]
7. Disinformation plays a big role. Brookings researcher, Darrell West (https://www.brookings.edu/blog/techtank/2021/01/11/the-role-of-misinformation-in-trumps-insurrection/ ), recently wrote: “Misinformation is a big part of our current polarization because it is hard to bring the country together when each side has its own facts and attributions of responsibility. It helps that some leading social media platforms have limited or banned Trump’s posting privileges, but that will not stop the spread of misinformation as Trump likely will move to other sites that have few limits on what he can post. His followers will share falsehoods on their own sites, and misinformation will continue to divide Americans and poison our political environment.”
Summary: I’m alarmed by the current situation, but believe that with hard work, we can yet save our precious democracy. Briefly here are 5 suggested actions:
a. Get involved. Join your local political organization and support progressive candidates.
b. Support the John Lewis Voting Rights Act — called HR 1 in the House version.
c. Do your part to get out the progressive vote.
c, Support lawsuits against state-level Republican voter suppression. (consider supporting Protect Democracy (https://protectdemocracy.org )).
d. Penalize sponsors of Republican disinformation — for example, major Fox News sponsors such as General Motors and Procter & Gamble.
Above all, pay attention! We’re sliding towards civil war.