Saving Democracy in America

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American history is replete with warnings of impending disaster that went unheeded: Pearl Harbor, 9/11, and more recently the climate crisis, Covid-19, and 1/6.

Now comes another warning, a “Statement of Concern” (June 1, 2021) from more than 100 authorities on democracy who tell us that the Republicans’ war on elections—their refusal to accept the 2020 results and their blatant actions at every level of government to prevent legitimate voting—“call into question whether the United States will remain a democracy.” The scholars condemn this “betrayal of our precious democratic heritage.”

Democracy in America is on the brink of destruction, and power-hungry, white supremacist, far-right Republicans are hell bent on taking us over the brink, casting aside every democratic norm we cherish. To them, facts are the enemy of truth and the competition of ideas is irrelevant. Winning is all that counts, just as Donald Trump has always preached.

This is sedition, pure and simple. It displays a pattern of authoritarianism we see today in Egypt, Turkey, Russia, Belarus, China, Brazil, and Hungary: loyalty to the leader has priority over loyalty to the country’s foundational laws and institutions. Once that pattern becomes deeply rooted, there can be no rule of law, constitutional authority, or legitimate opposition party. Unfavorable election results can be cast aside, as the Statement of Concern observes:

In future elections, these laws politicizing the administration and certification of elections could enable some state legislatures or partisan election officials to do what they failed to do in 2020: reverse the outcome of a free and fair election. Further, these laws could entrench extended minority rule, violating the basic and longstanding democratic principle that parties that get the most votes should win elections.

The silence is deafening. Where’s the popular outcry from the 81 million people who voted to get rid of Trump? When will liberals and progressives demand that the voice of the people be respected and the seditionists sidelined? The president is a patient man, but hell will freeze over before Republicans give an inch on their anti-democracy project. In the name of national security, Biden must act decisively to save democracy. He must pull out all the stops to see that the voting rights legislation passes—the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. Otherwise, as the conservative columnist Max Boot persuasively argues in the Washington Post (June 1), we could lose our democracy as soon as the 2022 elections. “Senate Democrats,” he concludes, “have to choose between saving the filibuster and saving democracy. They can’t do both.”

Let’s also keep in mind that the world is watching the far right’s challenge to democratic leadership. The repercussions of failure would be enormous, emboldening right-wing governments and (as in France) right-wing pretenders, weakening pro-democracy forces everywhere, and undermining the credibility and influence of US foreign policy on issues as diverse as climate change, immigration, and of course human rights and civil liberties. Let’s remember FDR’s famous words:

America’s own rightful place in the world depends in large part upon how fully [basic human] rights have been carried out in practice for our citizens. For unless there is security here at home there cannot be lasting peace in the world.

Peculiar to all those times of dire warning is the failure to react quickly, either because the signs of disaster were misunderstood, or mishandled, or underestimated.

We cannot make a mistake this time around; the stakes are unprecedentedly high.

Thinking that bipartisan deals or promises to work together will salvage democracy is naïve, a deliberate deception put forth by Republican leaders and followers who are completely untrustworthy. President Biden, for the sake of his presidency and for the sake of American democracy and America’s standing in the world, must thrust them aside.


Mel Gurtov, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Portland State University and blogs at In the Human Interest


  1. avatar
    James June 7, 2021 10:54 pm 

    Just more examples of the Left’s failure over more than 220 years. DiEM25 fighting for democracy in Europe. Democracy in the US going under. Sheldon Wolin would have something to say about it never ever really existing, as I’m sure others would.

    But it’s 2021 now and people, the Left, or parts of it, are concerned about saving what was never really there? Sad indictment. It hasn’t even been able to save some kind of faux democracy from assault?

    Since Robert Owen, Proudhon, Chartists, Marx, Bakunin, Kropotkin, the Anarchist Age from about 1880 to the Spanish Rev, the Wobblies and its demise over the 20th century, the Union movement, traditionalists, pragmatists, and Leftists, watching over its demise. The post WW2 “golden age”, putting the Left to sleep apart from small movements and groups, around the world, the McCarthy era, the odd left revolution and right wing coups, to the sixties and a new bunch of politically savvy activists and radicals being thwarted by the growth of a music industry that disempowered it rather than empowered it (the illusion that the “artist” was on their side), into the seventies when the Big Daddy White Geezer Hegemonic Power Grid, revitalised after the war, concerned about actual democracy getting a foot hold (Powell Memo, Trilateral Commision) goes into overdrive and basically fucks everything for the next fifty yrs.

    And here we are now, actually scared of “fascists” taking over what was never the people’s anyway. Plus, with 4 yrs to get a Global Green New Deal up and running to save organised life on the planet.

    And the Left is doing what? DSA? Socialism…what the frigg is that? Social democracy? Who knows? From each to each? What’s that mean? Grass roots organising as if it hasn’t nailed that by now? Progressive International? DiEM25? BLM? Real Next System Project? CommonsTransition? Rojava?Zapatistas? Cancel Culture? Anarcho-Primmies? Marxist Dialectical bullshit? Anarchists bitching over principles pretending it has theory too? Trying to resurrect the Union movement? Berating itself (who exactly) for not being able to talk to the working classes after 220 yrs? Berating itself for not being able to agree on vision and connected strategy. What? Is it talking to itself? Is there actually a Left at all? One actually in unity with some kind of “let’s actually try and save the planet from dying” mindset because all the other mindsets haven’t worked? What, we the public must continue to self-educate when each generation merely says the same thing over and over? Where anarchist talk of theory that isn’t much more than the idea of self-managed workplaces and people getting along? Where Marxists merely put dialectic in front of every other word as they bow to their God, and pretend they’re onto something? Where people constantly dam capitalism and demand eco-socialism without giving the slightest hint of what it is? And when someone does try to explain it or clarify it, they get ignored because it’s a blueprint, or it’s nothing much more than what Owen and Proudhon wanted with a little planning and markets, vague notions? Where the public have absolutely no clue of any of this? Truly, they have no clue any of these orgs or ideas exist, nor what they mean or whether they are any good! Truly, they don’t. The Left thinks many do, but many actually don’t? Where Rojava and the Chiapas are praised yet go now further than their own regional areas and again, hardly anyone knows about them anyway…like Mondragon even. What? Who’s Mondragon?

    And the Left, or parts of it are now worried about democracy going down the tubes in the States? Really? In 2021? Like, man….

    Less than 5 yrs people….Global Green New Deal Now.

  2. avatar
    Michael June 7, 2021 2:41 pm 

    Democracy in the US has always been tenuous and largely limited to the elites with some exceptions. We, of course, were not taught to understand this in school–at any level–but we must learn this eventually through our own auto-didactism, self-teaching and persistence.

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