November 16, 2020 | Reading Time: 4 minutes

Some choose death over democracy

It's time to believe the unbelievable.

Share this article

I get why some do not get why 72 million Americans voted for Donald Trump. The covid pandemic has killed nearly a quarter million people in this country. It has brought the US economy to the brink of collapse. The president is a lying, thieving, philandering sadist. How could so many Americans say: “Yeah, I’m good with that”?

I get why that’s hard to believe, but the thing we have to do, if we hope to move our country forward, is get over this disbelief. It’s time to believe millions favor or tolerate organic homegrown fascism. It’s time to believe millions voted against their material self-interests. It’s time to believe they will kill themselves before admitting a mistake. America is no more exceptional than any other nation. We can and will eat ourselves. I don’t mean to sound hopeless. I mean we can’t solve the problem till we see it clearly.

This is the collectivism we must face. This is the alternative to democracy we must fight against. There’s still hope.

There’s probably no better illustration of this than Jodi Doering’s interview on CNN this morning. Doering is a nurse in South Dakota. These days, she sees a lot of death. She said nearly all of her small town is dead from the new coronavirus. Doering sees patients who are denying the reality of the covid even as they are dying from it.

People are still looking for something else, and they want a magic answer, and they won’t want to believe that covid is real. … It wasn’t one particular patient. It’s a culmination of so many people. Their last dying words are, “This can’t be happening. This is not real.” When they should be spending time Facetiming with their families, they’re filled with anger and hatred. It made me really sad. I just can’t believe those are going to be their last thoughts and words. … (italics are mine)

In the bigger picture, when you’re trying to reason with people, “Can I call your family, your kids, your wife, your friend, your brother,” and they say, “No, because I’m going to be fine,” (and they’re dying), “it just makes you sad and mad and frustrated, and then you know you’re going to come back and do it over again.

When people would rather believe they’re dying from lung cancer than from the covid—that’s what Doering reported to CNN—what can you do as a nurse? Nothing, except get “sad and mad and frustrated.” What can you do as a citizen? Well, pretty much the same thing. You cannot expect cooperation from people who believe cooperation is defeat, who will hurt themselves to hurt you, and who deny reality as they lay dying. You cannot expect a free and equal exchange from them. You can’t expect democracy from them. All you can do is persuade as many people as you can to take the side of reason. That’s what Joe Biden did when he won more votes than anyone ever. That doesn’t mean the nation is ready for healing. It only means for now that all’s not lost.

Here’s the tip jar! Put something nice in it!

It’s hard seeing fellow citizens as dangerous. That difficulty amounts to an incentive to find a reason, any reason, to explain why they’re killing themselves. Some might say, “They must have been duped—by Fox News, by Russian disinformation, or by Donald Trump.” Or: “These people are idiots. They don’t know what’s good for them. They can’t make rational choices.” There’s something to these, but only something. The best explanation is the plainest. This is who they are. To look for other answers, as Jodi Doering said, is to look for “magic answers.” They are choosing their fates. Dying isn’t even the hard part. (Lung cancer is OK.) The hard part is conceding to the truth.

We have to rearrange our expectations. During the election, it was believed that voters would move toward Biden the more the covid and its economic fallout moved into their communities. It was believed imminent sickness, joblessness and/or death would open people’s eyes. Turns out, it had the opposite effect. According to last week’s analysis of election results by Buzzfeed, “COVID-19 deaths and unemployment had surprisingly little influence over the swings that happened at the county level. If anything, Trump did better in counties where more people have died of COVID-19.”

We have to rethink our political thinking, too. It’s often presumed Americans resist wearing face masks and other pandemic precautions due to the depth of their faith in individual liberty. South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem gave voice to this when she said recently, “My people are happy, and they’re happy, because they’re free.” Our heritage is rife with heroes choosing death over tyranny. “Live free or die,” for instance. See also: “Don’t tread on me.” But nowhere is there a hero choosing death over democracy.

We must reconsider the credit we give. In places like South Dakota, individual liberty is being perverted in the interest of the group, of the tribe, of the collective, so that individual life, far from being sacred, is expendable. This is the collectivism we must face. This is the alternative to democracy we must fight. Winning the presidency means there’s still hope. There’s work to be done but we must first believe the unbelievable.

John Stoehr

John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.


  1. Anonymous on July 30, 2021 at 11:24 pm
    • Adam Gleklen on July 30, 2021 at 11:24 pm

      I read it as “nearly all of her small town is now dead”

  2. Arley L on July 30, 2021 at 11:24 pm

    Typo here somewhere: “She said early all of her small down is now dead”

    • MacCruiskeen on July 30, 2021 at 11:24 pm

      Also, she didn’t really say that. She compared the state total to her small town.

      • Matthew Ebert on July 30, 2021 at 11:24 pm

        I wish there were a link/address to send these small copy edit/typo observations so they didn’t collect in the comments.

  3. hw on July 30, 2021 at 11:24 pm

    I think we’re too close to unfolding events to adequately understand the underlying reasons behind the votes for Trump. There are many single-issue voters: abortion, 401K/stock market portfolio/lower taxes, guns. There are many who were taught to vote Republican from the time they could speak. There are many who despise the Democratic party based on a diet of Fox News and right-wing media. There are many who feel betrayed by years of voting for Democrats and seeing little change in their lives, while corruption and income inequality thrives. There are many whose lives hold little meaning, so they are drawn to the GOP to replace impotence with rage. I’d argue that few would choose actual fascism since so few understand the reality of fascism. Freedom is the first casualty of fascism. I don’t know if voter behavior would have changed had the stark reality been presented to them, but I do believe that reporters and leadership alike failed to educate the country.

    • Thornton Prayer on July 30, 2021 at 11:24 pm

      I agree that the media and much of the political leadership dropped the ball in engaging with people who are drawn to fascist politics. However, there is a significant percentage of people who want to connect with perceived strength in political figures and vicariously want to experience that strength as well.

      All authoritarian regimes portray their leader as a specimen of physical and emotional power such as Putin publicly going around barechested. If you look at the paintings and photoshop portrayals of Trump, he’s pictured as this robust, muscular he-man even though in reality he is in terrible physical condition. I don’t think the Democratic party can do much to attract or re-attract people drawn to this style of politics.

      So long as there is this primal need by some portion of the population for this strongman “leadership”, those of us who value Democracy must be on guard no matter what the media or political leadership does or does not do.

      • hw on July 30, 2021 at 11:24 pm

        I agree that approximately 30% of any population at any given time can be persuaded by an authoritarian-like figure…one podcast referenced the fact that support for Joe McCarthy hovered around this level well after his disgraceful exit from politics. That said, I would argue that it’s one thing to support a supposed strongman and another to support authoritarian policies when they are used against the supporters. So, I do think that the Democratic party can gain a far greater share of the electorate when Trump is no longer in the White House (contingent on far better leadership by the DNC and DCCC), but I agree that 30% of Trump’s 47% share is not persuadable.

        • Thornton Prayer on July 30, 2021 at 11:24 pm

          I think we’re on the same page about the percentage of authoritarian leaning voters. I’m just more skeptical about the ability to convince a decent subgroup to vote for Democratic politicians and policies especially in today’s highly partisan environment. Being African American and having grown up in the South has given me blunt clarity about how many would happily impose an authoritarian regime if they can live their white supremacist dreams.

          That said, if the Democrats and liberals become *much* better in their messaging to state explicitly how GOP policies is harming their own lives, I think it is possible to regain some of their votes, at least outside of the South’s rural areas. We’ll have our first tests in the Georgia Senate special elections.

          • hw on July 30, 2021 at 11:24 pm

            Thank you for your valuable insights.

  4. Thornton Prayer on July 30, 2021 at 11:24 pm

    There is a very strong correlation with people who have a “Death Before Dishonor” mindset and support for fascistic, authoritarian politics. People like that equate stubbornness and aggression with strength even when it kills them. It’s not really that surprising that Trump’s support is higher in places where the pandemic is now raging.

  5. Bern on July 30, 2021 at 11:24 pm

    Two things about election outcomes & Covid:
    1) I do not doubt that many people refute reality to clutch firmly to their alternative beliefs, even unto the grave. Obvious and eternal. I do have doubts that Covid disbelief alone drove them to the polls just so they could vote Trump, however.
    2) For awhile now I’ve had the stark realization that the one thing standing between Trump and victory is the quarter million dead of Covid (and rising, I know, but the election was 2 weeks ago). Covid drove millions to vote Biden. Make no mistake – were it not for the Covid dead (and his ghastly abandonment of them) Trump would be planning his next (maskless) inauguration. That leads directly to this: We are at war with mindful, relentless authoritarian fascism (it CAN happen here; it HAS happened here). We’ve suffered hundreds of thousands of casualties already (more Americans than were lost in WWI, Korea, Viet Nam, Persian Gulf, Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom, New Dawn, Inherent Resolve…OFFS…enough). We must honor THEM as we have our other revered dead, whose sacrifices paved way for victory (in this case 306 electoral college votes). And those who live on – lungs clouded, minds reeling, lives shortened – must receive our everlasting care and sympathy, even as more get infected and die. It’s war, people – politics by other means – and the vets need us.

  6. Shelley Schanfield on July 30, 2021 at 11:24 pm

    “She said early all of her small down is now dead from the new coronavirus. ” This is inaccurate. She clarified her remark to say that the death toll of all of South Dakota is almost equal to the population of her small town. Probably a good idea to edit the essay.

Leave a Comment

Want to comment on this post?
Click here to upgrade to a premium membership.