June 20, 2022 | Reading Time: 6 minutes

The people can’t be trusted to choose liberal democracy

Liberals must push them toward it.


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Democracy, wow. I just don’t know sometimes. This time last year, I thought we were heading in the right direction. The political energies of anti-racism and anti-Trumpism conjoined to create the biggest winning coalition in the history of presidential elections. I was so optimistic, I wrote a piece arguing the “culture wars” had finally reached an end.


Then came Glenn Youngkin’s election. Despite Virginia going to Joe Biden the year before, voters in 2021 apparently decided the fascist threat was over. It was safe to elect for governor a rightwinger yammering about kids being brainwashed by their pedo-communist “CRT”-loving teachers. Now he’s going after LGBT-plus people the way his red comrades are. Now he’s undermining public education like his fellow Repubolsheviks. It’s anti-democracy disguised as democracy.

Who needs a coup d’état when the people can be trusted, given the patterns of history, to give power to those who, the last time the people gave them power, lent support for the overthrow of the government?

Democracy, wow

It’s dangerous.

Youngkin’s election was the first sign of the Biden coalition coming unglued. Turns out a lot of respectable white Virginians felt they were so immune to the effects of white power that they didn’t mind white-power policies as long as the former president wasn’t involved. 

Last week’s primaries are another sign and another blow.

A harder blow.

Who needs an insurgency?
More than 100 GOP primary winners are Big Lie senseis. A third of the way through this year’s primaries show voters picking candidates who believe the 2020 election was rigged, according to analysis by the Post

District by district, state by state, voters in places that cast ballots through the end of May have chosen at least 108 candidates for statewide office or Congress who have repeated Trump’s lies. The number jumps to at least 149 winning candidates — out of more than 170 races — when it includes those who have campaigned on a platform of tightening voting rules or more stringently enforcing those already on the books, despite the lack of evidence of widespread fraud.

To be sure, these are party elections, not general elections. 

But given the historical patterns of midterms, there’s a good chance of general voters signing off on these arch-seditionists. Some, like Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano, actually contributed to Trump’s failed overthrow of the government. That was a coup attempt, you’ll recall, approved by all but 10 Republicans. They apparently thought treason didn’t deserve punishment

Yet here we are, in the run-up to Biden’s first congressional election, in which the conventional wisdom anticipates voters handing control of one or both chambers of the Congress over to the very people who supported overturning a full, free and fair election. (Remember, most Republicans objected to the vote count after the attack.)

Who needs a coup d’état when the people can be trusted, given the patterns of history, to give power to those who, the last time the people gave them power, lent support for the overthrow of the government?

Democracy, wow

It’s dangerous.

It’s up to us – the liberals – to remind the people that democracy is more important than gas prices. It’s up to liberals to push the people – educate them, morally scold them, harangue them – in the direction of democracy before they hand democracy over to its enemies.

Democracy is priceless, right?
There was a moment in February, after Russia invaded Ukraine, when I thought perhaps a majority of Americans might connect the dots between the resurgence of white-power politics in the US and across the world.

It seemed possible for Americans to see that the Kremlin’s authoritarian propaganda, which justifies genocide in a fledgling democratic republic, is akin to the GOP’s authoritarian propaganda, which justifies anything to “take back” “their country” for “real Americans.”

Even an attempted coup.

Even murder.

I hoped then that a majority of Americans would intuit, at least, that the GOP is better understood as a separatist movement complete with a paramilitary faction possessing a penchant for committing acts of public political violence for the purpose of controlling liberal-curious Americans tempted by democracy to see such social control as totalitarianism-lite.

In February, polls showed a fulsome majority in favor of defending Ukraine and punishing Russia with economic sanctions, even though protecting democracy would almost certainly come at a price, such as high gas prices and supply-chain issues driving up prices generally.

Damn right, I thought. 

Democracy is priceless.

Bu bu but cheap gas!
Turns out democracy is too expensive.

Gallup released a survey this week with the headline: “Usual Midterm Indicators Very Unfavorable for Democrats.” Joe Biden’s job approval is 41 percent. Only 16 percent of respondents are happy with the ways things are going in the US. Gallup’s numbers are in keeping with other polls. 

These polls are a picture of systemic displeasure with a president who isn’t doing enough to bring down the price of gas, food, housing and more. Evidently, Joe Biden should have considered inflation before going off half-cocked in allied defense of Ukraine’s national sovereignty. 

Democracy is great and all, but seriously. 

Is it more important than cheap gas?

No, said Ohio Congressman Jim Jordan: “Real America [white people] doesn’t care about the January 6 committee. Gas is over $5 per gallon!”

To which we liberals say: no. Real Americans are all Americans, because all Americans have a stake in the continuation of this democratic republic.

Dangerous democracy
We forget that democracy is the radical redistribution of political power. 

In theory, democracy is supposed to confiscate power from the class of people who rule by right of blood (or in today’s terms, who rule by right of money). Democracy pushes power downward, so the people may determine their nation’s direction and fate in the name of the people.

But such a system requires the people to be informed, to have an idea of what’s going on, and if you have learned nothing else by reading the Editorial Board, you’ll have learned this: most people most of the time have or will find something better to do than pay attention to politics. 

One of the consequences of this dearth of civic faith, knowledge and participation is that the people – the ultimate sovereigns in a democracy – might surrender government of, by and for the people to those who abetted a figure who nearly overthrew the sovereignty of the people.

Again, who needs a coup?

Democracy is dangerous.

Especially when liberals have forgotten themselves.

Another coup-in-progress
Liberals have a habit of confusing majority opinion with democracy as well as the liberal values undergirding it. They are not the same, though.

For instance, I’ve been told the US Supreme Court is jeopardizing its legitimacy in the face of a majority that wants Roe to stay intact. If it strikes down Roe, as expected, it will invalid abortion rights and political parity for women, making clear that it’s at odds with majority opinion.

Liberals often tell me the court is sowing the seeds of its own reform.

That would be great. 

I hope so, too. 

But we cannot allow reform to be seen as fait accompli

Liberals suggest that majority opinion won’t tolerate a court that strips women of their rights. Just as likely, however, is that majority opinion will follow the court’s lead. With enough time and effort, particularly from the rightwing media apparatus, which is global in scale, it’s conceivable that majority opinion will accept the court’s decision, even support it. 

After all, the majority of Americans is set to return power to an insurgent party that, the last time it had power, tried to overthrow the government. 

If you believe there’s a difference between Trump and his party, as if it will not attempt another coup when given a chance, I invite you to read news out of New Mexico, where a commission in a rural county refused to certify primary election results that the three-member panel didn’t like.

It gets worse. One of the members is Couy Griffin, founder of Cowboys for Trump. This isn’t the first time he’s obstructed a full, free and fair election. According to CBS News, he “was convicted of illegally entering restricted US Capitol grounds — though not the building — amid the riots on Jan. 6, 2021, and is scheduled for sentencing later this month.”

So, again, with feeling.

Democracy is dangerous

Toward liberal democracy
We cannot afford to believe that Americans will choose democracy by dint of being American. We cannot afford to believe that Americans will demand equal treatment under law. We liberals cannot allow our values to blind us to the danger of taking democracy for granted. 

Some in the pundit corps now say that findings by the J6 committee are starting to sink it. A new poll by ABC News found that nearly six in 10 Americans say Donald Trump should be charged for crimes committed before, during and after the J6 insurrection. That’s up from a previous poll showing 52 percent said Trump should face charges.

MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough said this morning that even Trump’s base is seeing the light. “If one in five of my base thought I should have been charged with a crime and gone to jail, I mean, I would have gone and practiced law a lot earlier. Again, this is starting to resonate.”

Don’t believe it. 

All it takes for a Trump supporter to change his mind is a few days of rightwing propaganda. More frightening is that that’s all it takes to change anyone’s mind under the right conditions – ie, when the Washington press corps makes rightwing propaganda look reasonable. 

The usual answer to the problems of democracy is more democracy. 

While that’s good, it’s not good enough. 

We liberals have a unique responsibility. We know the people are fickle, near-sighted, self-interested and easily moved by rightwing propaganda. We liberals have a duty to move them the other way. 

Toward democracy. 

Toward liberal democracy.

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

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