I understand that many of you are not interested in politics—may, indeed, dislike it. But I am deeply worried about our country, and the issue transcends politics.
I’d been trying to think of a way to encourage people that they must pay attention to the fact that—as flawed as the Democrats may be, they are now the only political party trying to deliver for the American people—and to protect our democracy, which we now see is far more fragile than we’d ever imagined.
And the actions of Republicans in Congress, where they are at best refusing to govern and at worst siding with those who tried to undermine our democracy and the rule of law, are a major threat that we must counter with our voices and votes.
As I grappled for the words, I came across this open letter from a cross section of public figures with wide-ranging political and social views. They all agree on one thing: which they say in the title: THE FUTURE OF DEMOCRACY IN THE UNITED STATES IS IN DANGER.
I urge you to read their letter (I’ve reformatted and emphasized some of the text) and then read the edition of historian Heather Cox Richardson’s “Letter From An American” that I’ve appended below it.
The future of democracy in the United States is in danger.
by TODD GITLIN, JEFFREY C. ISAAC, AND WILLIAM KRISTOL OCTOBER 27, 2021 9:00 AM
[This open letter is being published simultaneously by The Bulwark and the New Republic.]
We are writers, academics, and political activists who have long disagreed about many things.
Some of us are Democrats and others Republicans. Some identify with the left, some with the right, and some with neither. We have disagreed in the past, and we hope to be able to disagree, productively, for years to come. Because we believe in the pluralism that is at the heart of democracy.
But right now we agree on a fundamental point: We need to join together to defend liberal democracy.
Because liberal democracy itself is in serious danger. Liberal democracy depends on free and fair elections, respect for the rights of others, the rule of law, a commitment to truth and tolerance in our public discourse. All of these are now in serious danger.
The primary source of this danger is one of our two major national parties, the Republican Party, which remains under the sway of Donald Trump and Trumpist authoritarianism.
Unimpeded by Trump’s defeat in 2020 and unfazed by the January 6 insurrection, Trump and his supporters actively work to exploit anxieties and prejudices, to promote reckless hostility to the truth and to Americans who disagree with them, and to discredit the very practice of free and fair elections in which winners and losers respect the peaceful transfer of power.
So we, who have differed on so much in the past—and who continue to differ on much today—have come together to say:
We vigorously oppose ongoing Republican efforts to change state election laws to limit voter participation.
We vigorously oppose ongoing Republican efforts to empower state legislatures to override duly appointed election officials and interfere with the proper certification of election results, thereby substituting their own political preferences for those expressed by citizens at the polls.
We vigorously oppose the relentless and unending promotion of unprofessional and phony “election audits” that waste public money, jeopardize public electoral data and voting machines, and generate paranoia about the legitimacy of elections.
We urge the Democratic-controlled Congress to pass effective, national legislation to protect the vote and our elections, and if necessary to override the Senate filibuster rule.
And we urge all responsible citizens who care about democracy—public officials, journalists, educators, activists, ordinary citizens—to make the defense of democracy an urgent priority now.
Now is the time for leaders in all walks of life—for citizens of all political backgrounds and persuasions—to come to the aid of the Republic.
Professor of Journalism, Sociology and Communications
Jeffrey C. Isaac
James H. Rudy Professor of Political Science
Indiana University, Bloomington
Editor at Large, The Bulwark
Director, Defending Democracy Together
Affiliations listed for identification purposes only.
Todd Gitlin is a professor of journalism, sociology and communications at Columbia University. Jeffrey C. Isaac is the James H. Rudy Professor of Political Science at Indiana University, Bloomington. William Kristol is the editor at large of The Bulwark and the director of Defending Democracy Together.
[Note from Annie: for a complete list of the letter’s signators, please click here.]
Heather Cox Richardson provides the historical context for the Republicans’ anti-democratic moves.
For those who don’t have the time to read her complete essay, I’m providing the opening and closing comments.
“For all the news stories that seem to tug us in one direction or another, there is just one overarching story in the news for Americans today.
“We are in an existential fight to defend our democracy for those who would destroy it.
“People seem to hark back to films from the 1930s and 1940s and think that so long as we don’t have tanks in our streets, our government is secure. But in this era, democracies die more often through the ballot box than at gunpoint….
“We are today in a struggle no less dangerous to our democracy than that of the 1860s, for all that it is fought with Facebook memes and cable television rather than artillery. And when our leaders talk fondly about Victor Orban, or Jair Bolsonaro—former president Trump endorsed his election today—we would do well to listen.”
I urge you to spend some time thinking about the import of the thoughts expressed here. Fatigue with politics is understandable, but we simply can’t afford to turn away from what’s happening today on every level of government—from Congress to local school boards.
I don’t want to be an alarmist. When others opined that Trump would stage a coup if he didn’t win, I wrote a post stating that was overheated, scary rhetoric. I was wrong then, and I now see that this anti-democratic fervor has moved far beyond Trump–and, as Heather Cox Richardson points out–long predates him. If we want to protect the noble but imperfect experiment with democracy that our founding fathers began, we must do so—now!