September 21, 2022 | Reading Time: 4 minutes
Republican anti-democrats are telling us who they are. Are we listening?
The GOP's ulcerous paradox.
The Times and the Post published nearly identical stories on the same day last week. They were about Republican candidates who refuse to commit to accepting the results of November’s elections.
The Times contacted 20 campaigns for governor or the US Senate in states that are crucial to controlling the Congress and administrating the 2024 presidential election. All the Democrats committed themselves to accepting the results, win or lose. Six Republican candidates, however, refused to commit when asked. Another five campaigns would not respond. All Republicans contacted, in one way or another, have doubted publicly the legitimacy of the outcome.
The Post contacted a dozen campaigns, again for the Senate or for governor in states key to controlling the future of democracy. The contrast between each party’s candidate “was stark,” the Post said.
While seven Republicans said they would accept the results, another dozen either refused to commit or did not respond when asked if they would. All but two Democratic candidates said they’d accept the results. (The other two campaigns did not respond to the Post’s survey. No Democrat has cast doubt on the outcome’s legitimacy.)
Both articles came to the same conclusion.
The Post: “The reluctance of many Republican candidates to embrace a long-standing tenet of American democracy shows how [Donald] Trump’s assault on the integrity of US elections has spread far beyond the 2020 presidential race.” The Times: “The positions of these Republican candidates also reflect how, over the last two years, some of those aligned with Mr. Trump increasingly reject the idea that it is possible for their side to lose a legitimate election.”
That’s a fair assessment. I’m not going to quibble with the merits. I am going to point out something that, to my way of thinking, is obvious, but that the press and pundit corps manage to overlook.
I’ll start by looking at the story from another angle.
If it’s about Donald Trump’s ability to continue poisoning the body politic, what’s the effect of that story? He’s not going away. He may, in the end, dodge indictment. So: Fear, dread, panic, worse – like the thunderhead of doom is hanging over us, amassing its strength.
But if the story is about Republican candidates who say in absolute terms that they have no business running for public office; that they don’t believe in democracy; that indeed they have contempt for the very idea of normal people manifesting their destinies; that no one nowhere should not vote for them if they care about such things – well, the effect is quite different, no? It’s clarity and understanding.
With that, citizens know what to do.
Like I said, it’s fair to say that many Trump allies, but no Democrats, refuse to commit to accepting the results of the coming elections.
But it’s not helpful to republican citizens who are active participants in democratic politics, who practice the principles of democracy and who see politics as a means of solving our collective problems.
Citizens need good information to make good choices. Fortunately, good information is widely available. These Republicans are saying out loud for everyone to hear that they are unworthy of our faith.
The problem is a press and pundit corps, in avoiding pointing out the obvious, ends up obscuring the obvious. The consequence is a citizenry more prone to anxiety than fully empowered to act.
I don’t mean to put too much stress on the press and pundit corps. I trust that grown folks can see with their own eyes that these GOP candidates are contemptuous of democracy and undeserving of anyone’s vote. And I don’t mean to belittle the hard work of covering the story of a criminal former president who continues to poison the body politic. Reporters are doing what they do. More power to them.
Still, I think something serious is missing from our political discourse when the ulcerous paradox beneath the GOP does not at least share public space with other news items about the midterms. That paradox is, of course, this: Republican candidates who are hostile to democracy are asking voters to entrust them with democracy.
They are saying, “I can’t be trusted.”
But the press corps isn’t telling that story.
Instead it’s about Trump’s ongoing influence.
To be sure, campaigns contacted by Times and the Post that refused to commit to accepting the results of the election had reasons. But these “reasons” aren’t really reasons. They are instead a means of rationalizing what is a volcanic contempt for democracy.
You don’t cite “reasons” when committed to democracy. The courts are there to deal with whatever “reasons” candidates have. The candidate, meanwhile, should uphold our faith in the people.
Perhaps the worst outcome of obscuring the obvious about these Republican candidates is that it depoliticizes democratic politics.
By obscuring the intentions of anti-democrats, reporters – and I think unintentionally – give them greater credence than they deserve while elevating them to the level of real democrats, that is, people who believe politics is a means to solving our collective problems.
When you allow anti-democrats to sit at the table of democracy, little gets done, because the table’s been depoliticized.
That, of course, is the ultimate goal of these Republican anti-democrats. They strive to make democracy unworkable, ungovernable and unbearable, hoping to drive republican citizens into despairing whether they can manifest their own destinies.
Fortunately, they are telling us who they are.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.