A Wakeup Call for Americans

Voting Rights text on United States Constitution

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.


An Open Letter in Defense of Democracy

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.

Todd Gitlin
Professor of Journalism, Sociology and Communications
Columbia University

Jeffrey C. Isaac
James H. Rudy Professor of Political Science
Indiana University, Bloomington

William Kristol
Editor at Large, The Bulwark
Director, Defending Democracy Together
Cosigners

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!

Annie

24 thoughts on “A Wakeup Call for Americans

  1. Annie, well said. Whether folks like Bill Maher or not, he said for two years that he did not think Trump would leave when he lost. We should have listened more. I knew in September before the election he would sue to avoid losing and wrote a post about it, but even I did not expect the January 6 insurrection or the extent of his sycophants spineless behavior to rationalize his lies. Keith

    Liked by 4 people

  2. Annie I commend your efforts to keep promoting these important issues, to what must seem at times like a generally apathetic population. What is the saying about “the only way for evil to prevail is for good people to stand by and do nothing.” Unfortunately, many people who don’t care about politics only sit up and take notice when things start to affect them personally and often by then it’s too late. I find the cult-like hold they seem to have on the party/government really disturbing, and still find it incomprehensible that they would have that many supporters.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks, Joni. The saying you cite in your comment is absolutely fitting.

      Sadly, appeals to people’s fears and insecurities are very effective. And while the Democrats are trying to come up with legislation that the majority of Americans support, persuasive, clear messaging has been missing.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. The frustration level has now reached the federal court system. The chief judge in Washington DC. federal court, Judge Beryl Howell, called the federal prosecutors’ charging decisions “baffling” and “peculiar” by allowing nonviolent rioters to plead guilty to petty misdemeanors and recommending probation in many of the cases. Judge Howell made her statement because these same prosecutors used “scorching language” when presenting their case and then letting the offenders off with a $500.00 fine even though the damage to the US Capitol ran into the millions of dollars.
    At this point, I have a genuine fear that once again, the Democrats are bringing knives to a gunfight. With Manchin and Sinema doing their “thing,” whatever in hell that is, if the Democrats fail to seize the moment and begin playing hardball, I’ll be fading into the night and concentrate more on my golf swing.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you, as always, for keeping our eye on the issues. So important and you dish it up with clarity and conviction. Keep it coming — all of it — and thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Current struggles reflect the pernicious effect of corporate money in politics more than Democrat vs. Republican. It is so much easier to pass legislation favorable to big banks, oil and coal interests, and drug companies than the opposite.

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    1. I agree that the Democrats are not immune to the pernicious dark money influence, but they are trying to combat it. Were it not for Manchin and Sinema, for the most part, we would have seen transformative change by this time.

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  6. It seems no matter loudly our voices rise, there’s a loss of hope in this country. I see fewer and fewer protests, and gone are the days of activism out of fear. It’s a natural fear one I don’t know how to feel about living with a terminal disease in what turned out to be a very conservative place in this country. I’m so tired of hearing the stories commented on the news by liberal and conservative pundits and nothing on protests about let’s see the overturn of Roe v Wade in Texas. It seems to have been forgotten and Biden not stuffing the SCOTUS is only going to allow more of these platforms underscored by the strangest things like in the state of California trying to overthrow a governor whose good job in balancing our budget and controlling covid seem to mean nothing – he wasn’t undone but we sure don’t hear a lot about that. Not good enough news. Not that a single poll worker wore a mask – I wrote to the director of elections and let her know. She actually wrote me back apologizing because of my immune system and I said I’m sure I wasn’t the only one that day getting nasty looks from anti maskers and anti vaxxers (they’ve got a right to choose but please put a mask on to protect people who are vulnerable) it’s so simple to see what’s causing this insanity yet he runs around a bad actor – as though he’s already won the next election and we don’t have too long to protest the moving of voting lines to jive the system to his benefit. Where are the days of our activism?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I hear ya, Ilene. I am deeply concerned that apathy, bolstered by a really irresponsible mainstream press that is making the Democrats’ deliberations seem far less ordinary than they are—and a right wing press that lies and inflames—will allow some really dark forces to seize control soon. It’s frustrating and uncomfortable to be on the alert all the time, especially when you’re managing serious health and other issues. I just hope more people will recognize how high the stakes are and vote, express their views, donate—and if they can—help the Democrats win.
      Note: I’ve been reading that Biden is getting high marks for the lower court judges he’s nominating—only to see them get stymied by certain Senators.

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  7. Howdy Annie!

    I have been grappling with similar issues. The problem as I see is it is that when one side refuses to cooperate, compromise, follow the rules, laws, social norms, and traditions that we have collectively developed then we cease to be functional. No group can withstand a sizeable faction just refusing to cooperate and play by the rules. It is just impossible.

    The Republican Party is making it impossible for the US to continue existing as it is currently constituted. If they don’t decide to change, then there is nothing we can do to stop the destruction of our country. Even if we vote them out of office — which given Virginia’s elections doesn’t look likely — they can still effectively destroy the country simply through nonconformity.

    That leaves us with one of two solutions: (1) Recruit from their base. Reach out to those you know in MAGA Nation and convince them to step back into the light and support our democracy. Or (2) divide the nation into two or more countries. There really is no other way forward.

    Huzzah!
    Jack

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello, CalicoJack, and welcome. I feel better now that we seem to be getting some good legislation passed. (See my latest post: “President Biden as Dynamo (!)” I think the Virginia loss may have been overstated. Apparently, lots of Dems thought McAuliffe was a poor candidate. I know about the historical precedents, though. We simply must work harder to get out our voters and register new ones.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Howdy Annie!

        I’m happy the infrastructure bill passed. I’ll wait to see if Manchin and Sinema allow the BBBB to pass.

        It is the role that the racist dog whistle of CRT played in convincing suburban white voters to line up for Youngkin that has me concerned. Remember, both candidates received more votes than any other gubernatorial candidate for their party has ever received. It was a high turnout election. Youngkin flipped counties that had voted for Biden because of it.

        While Black voter turnout was up, it was only slightly higher than either four years ago or 2020. I apologize, I can’t remember. To me the lesson is that Black voters won’t save our democracy; white voters will end it.

        The wakeup call in this instance is that too many white people just can’t bring themselves to confront their inner racist and are susceptible to dog whistle politics: CRT, defund the police, the border wall, immigrant caravans, and other racist demagoguery that seems to crop up in every election cycle to gin up the racist vote.

        Huzzah!
        Jack

        Liked by 1 person

  8. I agree that the phony issue of CRT and other hot-buttons played a role, possibly an outsized one, in VA and NJ too. It didn’t help that McAuliffe was a poor candidate who ran a poor campaign.
    The Dems have to find a way to take on these issues directly while not coming off as strident and accusatory; the latter only get people’s backs up.
    I think messaging is key, and we have to get better at it.
    Thanks, and cheers,
    Annie

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  9. Absolutely agree with you. As depressing as the news is right now, we have to stay on top of it and do what we can to expose the extreme nationalistic agenda that will stop at nothing to gain the upper hand.

    Liked by 1 person

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