“It is a perfect storm against freedom and pluralism…The upshot is democracy fatigue and authoritarian nostalgia.”
This statement from political scientist Richard Jivad Heydarian could be referring to the actions of would-be anarchists who invaded the United States Capitol on January 6. These violent interlopers smashed windows, kicked in doors, brutally attacked police officers, and sent the elected representatives of American democracy scurrying to safety. They were organized, they were brutal and they had one goal—overturn a democratic election in favor of an authoritarian despot.
But, Heydarian could also have been thinking about the angry right-wing mobs that threatened to arrest, try and execute the democratically-elected governor of Michigan. Or, perhaps he was talking about the thugs who threatened Georgia’s Secretary of State and his family with violence after the defeated president labeled him “enemy of the state.” The Secretary’s only “crime” was to uphold the law and refuse to undermine democracy by invalidating enough votes to swing the election.
A Vote to Nullify the Election
Maybe, though, his words were written to describe the actions of the eight US Senators and 139 House members who voted to nullify a fair and democratic election and hand the presidency to a disgraced authoritarian who lost by more than seven million votes. Or, he could be describing the actions of 47 states that introduced laws to undercut democracy by restricting voting rights.
Or, he could have been writing about Senator Ron Johnson who employed the anti-democratic pro-authoritarian tactic of replacing truth and reality with lies and an alternative reality. After the Capitol riot Johnson said he didn’t fear for his safety because he knew that the invaders were “people that love this country, that truly respect law enforcement, and would never do anything to break the law.” He went on to say, “Now had the tables been turned and President Trump won the election and those were tens of thousands of Black Lives Matter and Antifa protestors, I might have been a little concerned.” Ok, add racism to Heydarian’s “upshot” in the opening quotation.
Actually, Heydarian was describing the situation in Myanmar. It is rather humbling to see characteristics of my country reflected in words describing violent despotism abroad, but that is where the Republicans are trying to take us.
Why? Because they do not have a positive policy agenda to promote, and are instead peddling fear and nurturing violence. They rail against Democrats as purveyors of “cancel culture.” The hypocrisy of this attack is astounding in light of their ongoing attempts to cancel an election and thereby cancel democracy.
The primary Republican tool in their own cancel-culture experiment is to undermine the mother’s milk of Democracy, the right to vote. They are even employing their intellectual gurus. In a National Review article Andrew McCarthy wrote that “It would be far better if the franchise were not exercised by ignorant, civics-illiterate people.” Kevin Williamson, also in a National Review article, wondered if the country would be better off “by having fewer––but better–– voters.”
In a dissenting opinion as an appeals court judge, the now Supreme Court Associate Justice Amy Cony Barrett expressed her opinion that all Americans do not have an equal right to the ballot box. According to a USA Today report by Steven Straus, “she claimed that voting is a civic right belonging not to all citizens but only to ‘virtuous citizens’ who exercise it for the benefit of the community.”
What, you might ask, is causing the seemingly urgent Republican desperation to undermine American Democracy? Fear! They are fearful of an impending political tsunami triggered by a mammoth demographic earth quake: The Millennial Generation (born 1981-1996) make up 22% of the population and Generation Z (1997-2012) add another 20%. Their parents, Generation X, are also about 20%.
The two youngest generations have the most diverse population in America’s history. Their combined list of the major problems confronting the country includes climate change, racism/discrimination, wage inequality, cost of living, gun violence, intolerance, mental health, the older generations, unemployment, debt, social media, technology addiction, politics, and the economy.
Think about these issues in the context that Millennials and Generation Z are together America’s future voting majority, and they are the most socially progressive generations in U.S history. Combine those thoughts with the fact that forty percent of Millennials and 48% of the post-millennial generations are racial or ethnic minorities and you get a whiff of the Republican fear for their electoral future. They are desperate to keep those age groups from becoming high efficacy voters, and thus are pushing legislation that makes minority and youth access to polls difficult, thereby (Republicans hope) frustrating and discouraging them.
In the long term, this is not a winning strategy. It is akin to a football team falling back in a prevent defense. The Democrats, on the other hand, are embracing a strategy of staying on the offense to defeat “the storm against freedom and pluralism” by reinvigorating democracy and rejecting authoritarianism. Whichever party wins a majority of the Millennial/Z vote will own the future, and the battle is on.
Bill Jamieson’s career has included leadership positions in business, government, and education. He was also an ordained deacon in the Episcopal Church and his ministry centered around advocacy for low-income families and children.