The Atlantic: Democracy at the Crossroads, Justice or Tyranny in the Offing

The Atlantic examines the growing political divide in America, its causes, precedents, dangers & potential vast gains for justice. The Atlantic arrives at a surprising conclusion as to how we can continue this experiment with democracy.

After two brief announcements and an awww moment below, we examine an outstanding essay on the perils of democracy.

Awww… Grampa Paul with 6-week-old Torrey for the first time.

Retake Our Democracy on KSFR 101.1 FM, Saturday, November 16, 8:30am– 9 am – Interview with Miranda Viscoli, Co-President of New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence. She lays out what NMPGV got done in the 2019 session, what has been done since the session, and what to expect in 2020.

On Nov. 9, I interviewed Rebecca Sobel, Senior Climate and Energy Campaigner for Wild Earth Guardians, one of Retake’s closest allies. We discussed NM’s contribution to global warming, the Governor’s energy policies, and the produced water issue. Rebecca offered insights into what may be in play with NM’s plan to treat and reuse highly toxic fracking bi-products that industry wants you to accept as “water,” produced or otherwise. Great show that went well over the 30 minutes, so check out the podcast. Click here to get to Retake podcasts.

2020 Legislative Preview, Preparation & Training: What will be introduced and how to get ready!

Tuesday, Nov 19, 6:30pm-8:30pm, Center for Progress & Justice, 1420 Cerrillos, Santa Fe. Join us in person in Santa Fe or via live stream at the Retake Facebook page here. Learn which bills may be introduced in 2020: Abortion Decriminalization? Red Flag? Community Solar? A Just Transition Plan? Fracking Ban? Learn how to advocate now to get bills introduced, and learn effective strategies to use during the Session.

We’ll guide you through resources Retake has developed to help you advocate effectively from home or at the Roundhouse. And you’ll hear first-hand tips from some of Retake’s most active volunteers in the 2019 Session. Finally, Sydney Tellez, Associate Director of Common Cause, will tell you how you can help pass a bill calling for a constitutional amendment to create salaries for legislators and legislative staff, the only way we will ever have a Legislature that truly represents all the people and communities of our state. 

Please RSVP by clicking here (Facebook) or by emailing RetakeResponse@gmail.com

The Pen is Mightier than the Sword

Retake volunteers have completed issue briefs on two bills that could be introduced into the Roundhouse in 2020: Community Solar and Extreme Risk Protection Order. Both bills were introduced last year and there are hopes that they both will be introduced again in 2020. Your writing prompt for the week is to review either of these briefs and use them to write a letter to the editor of your local paper in support of the bill you select and encouraging the Governor to make it part of her 2020 legislative agenda.

When done, you should send the letter to the Governor and Democratic leadership in the House and Senate. Contact information is available by clicking here. making it easy to submit your letters to the Governor, Senator Wirth and Speaker Egolf in just a very few minutes. Write, copy, paste, send, done. If you have recently submitted or published a letter to the editor, you can just submit your letter to the Governor and legislative leadership. Click here for contact information on the ten largest NM newspapers along with guidelines for submitting letters.

Laura Riedel also completed an excellent issue brief on diversifying the NM state economy, an essential piece in the puzzle of forging a just transition. She shared the brief with the Economic and Rural Development Committee a week ago and they thought so much of it that they posted it on the committee website. Click here to read the brief.

America at the Crossroads: Tyranny or Liberation?

Decision Time: America hits a fork in the road.

Yoni Appelbaum wrote a well-researched piece that examines the degree to which the US is in the midst of an almost unprecedented “tectonic” shift in demographics, with the US getting younger, browner, and more Democratic (large D). Appelbaum points to how many observers have seen this shift as boding well for the prospects of an era of progressive advances, with the Republican Party becoming not just a minority party but marginalized to the point of being an after thought.

However, Appelbaum also points to the very real risks that this shift could represent–a threat to democracy, because those losing their grip on power and influence may react by creating a zero sum game of them vs. us that preys upon the fears of those who identify with the GOP. Appelbaum points to how Trump has masterfully characterized the Democratic Party as seeking to steal America as conservatives know it, a theme he reiterated yesterday in Louisiana. It isn’t that Democrats and Republicans disagree on things. It is that “they” (the Democrats) want to destroy you. From Trump:

What is taking place is not an impeachment, it is a COUP, intended to take away the Power of the People, their VOTE, their Freedoms, their Second Amendment, Religion, Military, Border Wall, and their God-given rights as a Citizen of The United States of America!” For good measure, he also quoted a supporter’s dark prediction that impeachment “will cause a Civil War like fracture in this Nation from which our Country will never heal.”

Appelbaum goes on to reflect upon how with Trump’s rhetoric is having an impact. Researchers from Vanderbilt University found that:

“Partisans are willing to explicitly state that members of the opposing party are like animals, that they lack essential human traits,” …. “Dehumanization may loosen the moral restraints that would normally prevent us from harming another human being.”

Appelbaum points to Nazi Germany as an instance where this kind of rhetoric–directed at Jews, homosexuals, and gypsies–had been used to move Germany to acts of unprecedented genocide. He then points to how rhetoric in the US is preying on fears of white Christian Americans that their way of life is threatened.

Within the living memory of most Americans, a majority of the country’s residents were white Christians. That is no longer the case, and voters are not insensate to the change—nearly a third of conservatives say they face “a lot” of discrimination for their beliefs, as do more than half of white evangelicals. But more epochal than the change that has already happened is the change that is yet to come: Sometime in the next quarter century or so, depending on immigration rates and the vagaries of ethnic and racial identification, nonwhites will become a majority in the U.S. For some Americans, that change will be cause for celebration; for others, it may pass unnoticed. But the transition is already producing a sharp political backlash, exploited and exacerbated by the president. In 2016, white working-class voters who said that discrimination against whites is a serious problem, or who said they felt like strangers in their own country, were almost twice as likely to vote for Trump as those who did not. Two-thirds of Trump voters agreed that “the 2016 election represented the last chance to stop America’s decline.” In Trump, they’d found a defender.

This is clearly the message Trump is sending in relation to the “invasion” of “bad people” coming to America from the southern hemisphere. But even without a surge in new immigrants, who would not be able to vote for years, even with the most enlightened immigration and naturalization polices, the math for this kind of political end game, can’t end well for the GOP. The voting population is inexorably becoming younger, more diverse and more Democratic and no wall can prevent that.

Appelbaum points to how the GOP really only has two options, adjust policies to respond to an increasingly diverse America or undermine the voting process itself. For now, it is clear the path the GOP is taking.

Instead of simply contesting elections, the GOP has redoubled its efforts to narrow the electorate and raise the odds that it can win legislative majorities with a minority of votes. In the first five years after conservative justices on the Supreme Court gutted a key provision of the Voting Rights Act in 2013, 39 percent of the counties that the law had previously restrained reduced their number of polling places. And while gerrymandering is a bipartisan sin, over the past decade Republicans have indulged in it more heavily. In Wisconsin last year, Democrats won 53 percent of the votes cast in state legislative races, but just 36 percent of the seats. In Pennsylvania, Republicans tried to impeach the state Supreme Court justices who had struck down a GOP attempt to gerrymander congressional districts in that state. The Trump White House has tried to suppress counts of immigrants for the 2020 census, to reduce their voting power. All political parties maneuver for advantage, but only a party that has concluded it cannot win the votes of large swaths of the public will seek to deter them from casting those votes at all.

But accompanying these undemocratic efforts to prevent some voters from getting to the polls is also being accompanied by rhetoric that fuels the fears of those white Christians who fear their way of life is being threatened by demographics changes they can’t overcome.

When a group that has traditionally exercised power comes to believe that its eclipse is inevitable, and that the destruction of all it holds dear will follow, it will fight to preserve what it has—whatever the cost.

And here is where Appelbaum lands on an interesting observation as to how America can best avoid the fate of Nazi Germany. He reflects upon the work of historian Daniel Ziblatt to consider GOP options.

Ziblatt points to Germany in the 1930s, the most catastrophic collapse of a democracy in the 20th century, as evidence that the fate of democracy lies in the hands of conservatives. Where the center-right flourishes, it can defend the interests of its adherents, starving more radical movements of support. In Germany, where center-right parties faltered, “not their strength, but rather their weakness” became the driving force behind democracy’s collapse.

If our fate and the fate of any semblance of Democracy resides in the hands of moderate and conservative Republicans, we can not exactly be encouraged by the craven and disingenuous arguments being used by them to defend Ttump’s pretty indisputable acts worthy of impeachment. At least until now there is virtually no effort on the part of the GOP to stand on principles and policies and disavow the behavior of a president who is unhinged. And there is historic precedent for such behavior.

As the historian Joanne Freeman shows in her recent book, The Field of Blood: Violence in Congress and the Road to Civil War, slave-state representatives in Washington also turned to bullying, brandishing weapons, challenging those who dared disparage the peculiar institution to duels, or simply attacking them on the House floor with fists or canes

The rhetoric below is eerily like what we hear from Trump, Graham, Guliani, and others in the GOP fold.

“The North has acquired a decided ascendancy over every department of this Government,” warned South Carolina’s Senator John C. Calhoun in 1850, a “despotic” situation, in which the interests of the South were bound to be sacrificed, “however oppressive the effects may be.”

Appelbaum concludes his analysis with another reference to Daniel Ziblatt.

Whether the American political system today can endure without fracturing further, Daniel Ziblatt’s research suggests, may depend on the choices the center-right now makes. If the center-right decides to accept some electoral defeats and then seeks to gain adherents via argumentation and attraction—and, crucially, eschews making racial heritage its organizing principle—then the GOP can remain vibrant. Its fissures will heal and its prospects will improve, as did those of the Democratic Party in the 1920s, after Wilson. Democracy will be maintained. But if the center-right, surveying demographic upheaval and finding the prospect of electoral losses intolerable, casts its lot with Trumpism and a far right rooted in ethno-nationalism, then it is doomed to an ever smaller proportion of voters, and risks revisiting the ugliest chapters of our history.

In 2016, the GOP cast its fate with Trump and the ethno-nationalism. The fear based rhetoric employed throughout that campaign along with some very likely Russian manipulation of the campaign rewarded the GOP a win in 2016 and the rhetoric against immigrants then and now is central to the message that inspired the right.

In the most influential declaration of right-wing support for Trumpism, the conservative writer Michael Anton declared in the Claremont Review of Books that “2016 is the Flight 93 election: charge the cockpit or you die.” His cry of despair offered a bleak echo of the RNC’s demographic analysis. “If you haven’t noticed, our side has been losing consistently since 1988,” he wrote, averring that “the deck is stacked overwhelmingly against us.” He blamed “the ceaseless importation of Third World foreigners,” which had placed Democrats “on the cusp of a permanent victory that will forever obviate [their] need to pretend to respect democratic and constitutional niceties.”

While this rhetoric worked in 2016, there is increasing evidence from the mid-terms, Virginia, Kentucky, New York and very likely Louisiana today, that voters–particularly suburban and women voters–have been offended by the tone and the policies that have resulted from the GOP win in 2016. We have a president who is an embarrassment to most Americans, an offensive rhetoric and now a largely indefensible act of bribery all coalescing into a crystalizing moment for America, a choice: are we to continue to govern by fear and hate or offer something more? Are we going to strengthen our democratic institutions or let them continue to erode?

The stakes in this battle on the right are much higher than the next election. If Republican voters can’t be convinced that democratic elections will continue to offer them a viable path to victory, that they can thrive within a diversifying nation, and that even in defeat their basic rights will be protected, then Trumpism will extend long after Trump leaves office—and our democracy will suffer for it.

Appelbaum has done an excellent job at weaving together a wide variety of historical political trends. He points to how in the past both parties have reached this kind of crossroad and in with the exception of the Civil War, have found ways to reach out to the shifting political landscape, adjust their policies and rhetoric to new political realities, and allow for the democratic debate to continue. We see precious little evidence of this occurring today and hence my concluding fear.

While not stated explicitly in the Atlantic article, I think that for many of us, the fear is that the GOP understand all of this and are planning to press on with their racist, fear-based rhetoric, hedge that with what should offend all Americans, more efforts to limit access to the voting booth by brown Americans and hope it works again in 2020.

My expectation is that this will not work in 2020; my fear is that the GOP may then cry foul, claim the election is a coup, and attempt to disavow the results.

Hence the title to this post: America at a Crossroads. Your thoughts?

Click here to read the full Atlantic post. While I generously excerpted from Appelbaum’s piece, there is actually much more in the full article and I recommend the time spent reading it.

In solidarity,

Paul & Roxanne

6 thoughts on “The Atlantic: Democracy at the Crossroads, Justice or Tyranny in the Offing

  1. Paradigm Shift

    The most urgent challenge facing humanity is not climate change, or species extinction, or unsustainable population growth; rather, it is how we understand the Universe and our intimate relationship within it. Our deepest choices for the future emerge from this core understanding.
    Duane Elgin, Futurist, author

    I believe what is happening here is not just a crisis of democracy, which historically has existed primarily for white males in this country. The great divide in the United States is also not just between Democrats and Republicans. To see it that way is to severely limit the profound magnitude of the paradigm shift that is happening in the consciousness of Americans and world citizens alike.

    I think that we have collectively arrived at a state of liminality, that is, on the threshold of an enormous transition, where the old Great Stories that informed us of who we are, why we are here, and what is our relationship to the universe no longer serve us. And like a tsunami, these old images are being swept away.

    Still, the old images familiar as they are, continue to be relentlessly promoted. They have their origins in a Judeo-Christian mindset of a raging jealous, angry God who demands absolute obedience to tribal creeds and a rigid belief that a few preselected elect will be “saved” from hell fire. That symbol is personalized in Donald Trump who is the perfect image of the mad and vengeful God of the Old Testament.

    These old images have been grafted onto 4 hundred years of Cartesianscience that insists humans are cosmic accidents, that knowledge is purely objective, that all of us are without purpose except as we individually ascribe such purpose to ourselves, that everything is material, that sentience is exclusively the product of random chemicals, that nature is essentially dead and therefore ripe for exploitation.

    We have been told that competition and survival of the fittest is the dynamic behind creation, that we are separate from nature, that there are winners and losers, that might is right, that male dominance is Godlike, and that feeling and emotion and the feminine are utterly subordinate to the will of the heroic male.

    These beliefs are shared by Democrats and Republicans alike and are mostly unconscious. As Charles Eisenstein says,

    “What we observe to be happening in the world says as much about ourselves as it does about the world. It reveals what we think is important, significant, valuable, and sacred, and what is irrelevant or useless too. Put another way, what we see reveals how we see.”

    They have brought us all the inescapable problems of climate change, endless war, violence against women, children and the “other,” pollution, the rise of fundamentalism, tribalism and an economic matrix that commodifies and seeks to own for profit, life itself. These symptoms occur during times of a changing of the Gods, an extraordinary moment in the evolution of man when one paradigm, one collective belief system is dying and a new one is emerging.

    The old material mindset no longer works. The mechanical mind of exploitation and control is dying and evolving into the emergent mind, where all of life is holy and man’s purpose is seen to become co-creators with nature, suffused with intelligence. What is seeking to be born is a radically new consciousness that so longer subscribes to creeds managed by priests, experts and strongmen outside oneself but an inner knowing that humans are charged with a sacred destiny to restore the earth, to honor Gaia as alive, to see the connectedness of all things, to cooperate for the benefit of all, to grant to the other what we grant to ourselves such as sovereignty and respect, and to no longer support those institutions who seek domination and power over.

    The new consciousness on earth is rising out of the ashes of the old in support of the fundamental notion that the driving force of the universe is love and that we humans are a part of that love. God, Divine Intelligence, The Source of Everything, is awakening to Itself in human form. It says, “I am another yourself.”

    This is beyond radical. It is a collective transformation and enlightenment. It has never happened in the history of mankind. We are in the midst of a collective awakening so vast and pervasive that we can never return to the conviction of separation, which is what the forces of fear, fascism and fanaticism are desperately trying to do.

    I leave you with this:

    “I share the belief of many of my contemporaries that the spiritual crisis pervading all spheres of Western industrial society can be remedied only by a change in our world view. We shall have to shift from the materialistic, dualistic belief that people and their environment are separate, toward a new consciousness of an all-encompassing reality, which embraces the experiencing ego, a reality in which people feel their oneness with animate nature and all of creation.”
    Albert Hofmann

    • This is maybe the most thoughtful, profound and hopeful comment ever posted on this site. I want to use it as a guest blog. Brilliant. May it be so. While there is evidence just this sort of world view is simmering, we can only hope it becomes predominant in time to save life on earth.

    • Yes! I’ve been saying for a while now (to whoever will listen) that we humans are in a profound spiritual crisis and a spiritual awakening is coming, but I’m nowhere near as articulate on the subject as you are! This insight was partly revealed to me in a Holotropic Breathwork session, which is very challenging to put into words. But it is clear that we have lost our way for centuries and that remembering our collective consciousness/being/spirit, remembering our connection to and honoring Gaia, as you mention, is essential to ending our destructive path. Thank you for this post!

      • Thank you for sharing your insights on this. Holotropic Breathwork is a great way to access this awareness and I’m so happy you mentioned it. Everything you say is true and it’s going to take all of us to begin re-dreaming what earth can be like and holding that awareness steady to begin to profoundly change the present imagery and belief systems. Fortunately, as they say, “Not a thousand armies can oppose an idea whose time has come.”

        Climate change is definitely helping us exit the Matrix. The purpose of the fires from a more shamanic or even spiritual perspective might be to expand our awareness of who we are. In fundamental ways its cleansing us. Some disciplines don’t talk about God, they talk about death because that is what gets humans to open up to spirit within us.

        Much love and respect to both of you,
        Richard

    • I take the following quote to be in complete agreement with you:
      “Doom scenarios, even though they might be true, are not politically or psychologically effective. The first step . . . is to make us love the world rather than to make us fear for the end of the world.” Gary Snyder
      To love the world is just the shift in consciousness that you are talking about, I think.

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